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China prefers to deal with the devil it knows. Beijing was fully prepared to deal with a President Hillary Clinton but, like the rest of us, the country’s foreign policy establishment is in the dark about what follows the election of Donald Trump. This creates genuine uncertainty in Beijing.
Chinese policy analysts are now working overtime to map out the future of Sino-American relations. Broadly, there are three overlapping schools of thought. China’s response to Mr Trump will be shaped by whichever prevails. Either way, it will be brutally pragmatic and not remotely ideological.
The first of these schools might simply be called the “instability” school. China has a deeply conservative approach to international policy. It does not like unpredictability. With Mr Trump, it has ended up with strategic unpredictability at scale.
A second school is decidedly optimistic, for several reasons. Its adherents see the “chaos” of the US election as proof for its domestic population of the unworkability of western liberal democracy. They also see Mr Trump as a transactional politician, unburdened by the orthodoxies of the US foreign policy, intelligence and human rights establishments. In their view, therefore, he is a leader with whom they have greater potential to cut a deal, either on national security or economic policy.
Furthermore, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which excluded China — now dead, Beijing will have greater influence on what replaces it.
Mr Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has the potential to undermine US strategic interests in Indonesia and Malaysia, where China has already made significant progress in extending its south-east Asian influence. In the wider region, the optimists see the ambiguity of Mr Trump’s pre-election language on America’s South Korean and Japanese alliances increasing the probability that China’s neighbours will begin to accommodate Beijing’s interests...................
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