U.S. – China Conflict Will Shift Toward Geoconomic Statecraft

During President Trump’s trip to Beijing and the ASEAN Summit in November 2017, President Trump and President Xi confirmed that the future of U.S.-Chinese relations will focus largely on opportunities for U.S. and Chinese businesses, potential security cooperation, and ongoing points of friction. The ASEAN Summit also solidified China’s intentions to become a regional leader offering a new model of development, and the United States’ focus on domestic economic protection.

Market-Driven Economic Ties

Throughout the course of the two-day meeting, Presidents Trump and Xi concluded $250 billion worth of commercial deals, most of which involve Chinese companies buying U.S. energy, technology, and farm products (Global Times, November 14). The largest of these deals was an agreement from the Chinese state-owned China Energy Investment Corp to invest $83.7 billion in power generation, chemical manufacturing, and underground storage of natural gas liquids and derivatives in West Virginia. Additionally, Sinopec, the Bank of China, and Alaska Gasoline agreed on a major natural gas project worth $43 billion. Other notable deals include a confirmed $37 billion sale of 300 Boeing jets to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, $12 billion sale of Qualcomm semiconductors to three Chinese mobile companies, and an agreement between Goldman Sachs and Chinese state-owned China Investment Corp. to invest $5 billion in U.S. manufacturing, industrial, consumer and healthcare companies (Caixin, November 9).

Chinese media heralded these deals as a positive step demonstrating President Trump’s commitment to “business over politics,” and lauded Trump as a U.S. president “finally interested in economic interests.” Clearly, the perception in Beijing is that Trump demonstrated a willingness to pursue U.S. commercial business opportunities with China without leveraging broader political or strategic goals to do so. If true, this marks a shift from previous administrations, which have tended to tie shifts in U.S. economic relations with China to wider human rights or geopolitical concerns. Yet other Trump administration officials have dismissed this approach, noting that the commercial deals were largely non-binding memorandums and therefore “nothing new”.