After a president of the United States takes office, he normally enjoys what is called a “honeymoon period,” which is when the public and Congress generally approve of his actions and policies. During this time period, the president often receives high approval ratings. The same can be said for the relationship between the president and foreign leaders. They, too, grant him time to understand the intricacies of the position and get a feel for how the United States works with their respective countries. The U.S. president receives much goodwill from many actors in order to ensure a smooth transition between administrations. With President Donald Trump, it does not appear that there will be much of a honeymoon period with the American public or even with some foreign countries—particularly the People’s Republic of China.
All signs point to China taking advantage of the transition between administrations, and Trump’s inexperience at governing, to have its own sort of honeymoon. The Chinese—along with the rest of the world—face a similar situation. Other countries will wait to see what form a Trump presidency takes. Will his actions and policies be as aggressive as his tweets? Will his online Twitter persona differ from face-to-face interactions and negotiations with foreign leaders? At the same time, they will wait to see which of Trump’s foreign-policy campaign promises and statements will take precedent over others. Which region will he focus on? Which bilateral relationships will he view as most important? Which countries will be ignored at the get-go? How will he respond to aggression by another country? While other countries adopt a wait-and-see approach, China will test the limits of Trump’s patience.
The failures of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, and Trump’s promise not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, give China the opportunity to become the major power in the region. Its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will become the dominant multilateral trade organization in Asia, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “One Belt One Road” initiative will ensure that all trade is centered on China. It has the mechanisms in place to dominate Asia economically and militarily as a Trump administration seeks to disengage from the world.