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Over the last year, scholars, pundits, and policymakers interested in China have rhetorically asked whether US President Donald Trump will make President Xi Jinping’s China “great again.” There is now mounting evidence that the answer to that question is “yes.” Since his inauguration, there are a number of ways in which Trump has contributed to China’s rise, and Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on power.
To begin with as we, and others have suggested elsewhere, Trump is making China great again by withdrawing from global responsibilities so that space is left for Xi’s China to step into. Trump’s ‘America First’ policy has involved announcements of withdrawal from international responsibilities and agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), UNESCO, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and UN talks on migration. He has threatened to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal, a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and NAFTA.
At the same time, Xi’s China has pursued the opposite policy, investing in exactly the kinds of overseas initiatives that built America’s global influence, including foreign aid and investment, overseas security, and education. The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – China’s massive connectivity project and Xi’s flagship foreign policy – has fortuitously emerged in this newly opened space.