- From Manhattan penthouse to Chinese cave home, the unlikely political paths of Trump and Xi Jinping converge in 2017.
- Trump's unwavering belief in China's economic exploitation of America forms the backbone of his campaign rhetoric and presidency goals.
- The global pandemic of COVID-19 forces Trump's coveted U.S.-China trade deal onto the back burner, shifting public sentiment drastically.
In his Manhattan penthouse apartment, a young Donald Trump could not have envisaged that his counterpart in China, Xi Jinping, was dwelling in a humble cave home in a mountain farming community. The political paths that led these two men to the apex of leadership in the world's two powerhouse nations were far from identical, but converged at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. This unlikely meeting of the minds led Trump to sing praises of Xi, a stark contrast to his earlier aggressive stance towards China during his presidential campaign. However, beneath this ebullient surface lay a labyrinth of ideas and strategies that would fundamentally shift the dynamics of the US-China relationship.
Trump's perception of China as exploiting America dates back to the early 2010s. An influential film by economics professor Peter Navarro resonated with his stance, further feeding his conviction that a healthy American economy necessitated curbing China's economic might. These ideologies formed the cornerstone of his campaign rhetoric, culminating in his presidency's quest for a revolutionary trade deal with China.
In the 1960s and 1970s, China was grappling with widespread poverty. By the time Xi ascended to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, China had halved its poverty figures and was steadily on its way to becoming a dominant global economic force. Despite his nation's progress, Xi proved unbending to international pressures, embodying China's distrust of the liberal international order. Xi was determined not to be swayed on trade by a US president, let alone one who sought a considerable deal.
In a remarkable display of diplomacy during the early days of Trump's presidency, Xi and Trump seemed to strike an unusual friendship over a delectable piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago. Xi left the meeting with the understanding that Trump's primary desire from China was a trade deal. This insight provided China with strategic leverage over Trump and possible concessions while he remained fixated on this goal. This situation ultimately resulted in a trade war, spiraling tariffs, and a prolonged negotiation process, all to secure an elusive trade agreement.
The global spread of COVID-19 changed the game entirely. Despite initial denials and downplaying of the virus's severity, Trump soon had to put his coveted trade deal on the back burner. Public sentiment towards China, the virus's origin, shifted drastically. Trump's late-action and derogatory rhetoric against China not only lost him political points but also highlighted the glaring imbalance of power between the two nations. As China emerged stronger post-lockdown, America found itself battling a public health crisis and a weakened economy.
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