Trump’s victory was a surprise worldwide. Even Henry Kissinger was surprised; he thought Hillary Clinton would win. Trump is now busy assembling his cabinet but he has found time to meet with Dr. Kissinger to pick his brain. There are a lot of challenges ahead of Trump. APEC, a successful economic development cooperation forum for Asia Pacific nations is held in Peru this month; the APEC leaders are waiting to see how Trump will shape his trade policy among many other issues dealing with US regional neighbors. While Japan is concerned about her defense treaty with the U.S., the Chinese leader offers cooperation to Trump in forging the US-China relationship. Cooperation needs specific actions. An US-China Infrastructure Development Conference seems to be an appropriate initiative to kick off.
Dr. Kissinger is not only well known for his effort assisting Nixon to make their historical visit to China opening her door to the world but also known as a statesman well versed in international affairs and diplomacy. He has written many books about the world, China and international conflicts. In his giant autobiographic volume about his service in the White House, he has shown that he is a very perceptive, meticulous and honest person from the way he described the events and personalities he dealt with in his tenure assisting President Nixon in the White House. Kissinger was honest about his misjudgment on the election outcome during an interview by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic on 11/10/2016. In that interview, he was asked whether he will be meeting with Trump, he said, "I will not reach out to him, but that has been my approach to every president since I left office. If he asks me to come see him, I will." Then upon Jeffrey's last question, he offered Trump his advice to reflect and analyze to demonstrate that he (Trump) is on top of the known challenges and the nature of their evolution. Of course, this is the proper response a statesman should make, offering the President-Elect a polite invitation to meet with a suggested agenda.
The fact Trump is meeting with Kissinger on 11/17/2016, within a week of the above interview, suggests that Trump is a humble leader anxious to absorb whatever wisdom a veteran diplomat and statesman can offer him. On 11/17, Trump had a very busy schedule meeting eight guests starting with Henry Kissinger, then South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, Representative Jeb Hanvarling, Florida Governor Rick Scott, General Jack Kane, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Admiral Michael Rogers, Former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell. Trump had to squeeze Abe Shinzo, the Japanese Prime Minister (who was anxious to be the first foreign head of State to meet Trump) into an evening meeting. There was no statement issued about the Abe-Trump meeting other than Abe's remark to the press, "the U.S. and Japan will be able to maintain a relationship of trust." Japan's concern about the US-Japan Defense Treaty is understandable in view of Trump's America First political philosophy. Whether or not the U.S. will interfere in the China-Japan Diaoyu Island dispute may become the real test case for the Trump Administration.
The Kissinger-Trump meeting was to talk about 'Events and Issues Around the World' and focused on Russia, China, Iran and EU as reported by the Hill quoting a statement, "President-elect Trump and Dr. Kissinger have known each other for years and had a great meeting. They discussed China, Russia, Iran, the EU and other events and issues around the world," the statement reads; “I have tremendous respect for Dr. Kissinger and appreciate him sharing his thoughts with me,” Trump said, according to the statement. Dr. Kissinger was also interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on CNN after his meeting with Trump although disappointing to Zakaria, Dr. Kissinger did not elaborate on any content of his conversation with Trump. Kissinger has interacted with five Chinese leaders for forty years, it is almost impossible that Kissinger could give Trump a core dump about China in one meeting. We would expect that so long Kissinger can keep his health (he is 93 years old) in shape, he will continue to make contribution to the Administration on foreign policies.
Kissinger was surprised that Hillary Clinton lost the election and he remarked that the foreign countries were shocked about Trump's victory. Trump's hostility towards free trade was very explicit on his campaign trail. Hence, there is no surprise, in the 2016 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum held in Lima Peru this month (Summit to begin on 11/19-20/2016), the minds of the world leaders are all on Trump while Obama is attending APEC for the last time. He will not be promoting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) since he has already decided not to send TPP to US Congress for ratification. Both Trump and Clinton had opposed TPP during their presidential debates and campaign speeches thus its death had been prescribed. Obama probably would not be comfortable to field the questions about the new US administration's trade policy since Trump is yet to translate his campaign rhetoric to concrete policies.
Trade issues are very complex involving not only foreign trading partners but also our fifty states with different interests. Trump has attacked NAFTA and threatened a trade war with Mexico, Canada, China and the likes by raising tariff against their imports and designating China as a currency manipulator, but he may not be able to implement any effective solutions. For example, 48 out 50 states have either Canada or Mexico as their leading trading partner under NAFTA, therefore, it means tearing up NAFTA may be a politically impossible task. Regarding waging a trade war with China, neither side will win. Limiting imports or raising tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs since they were lost decades ago. In some industries such as garment or some other light manufacturing, low-skill, low wage jobs are actually moving away from China to other country like Vietnam for lower cost labor. On the other hand, China can retaliate on imports from the U.S. hurting our industry such as Boeing jets, high-tech products or American made high-end automobiles.
Trump as a king of real estate is most likely to succeed in accelerating a domestic infrastructure upgrade program. He was right to point that our airports, highways, bridges, transportation hubs, and shipyards are behind times compared to many countries including particularly China. He was also right to say that we need to entice U.S. corporations to bring their cash stashed abroad avoiding taxes back to homeland to stimulate economic growth. It seems that the solution to trade issue lies in the domestic policies such as business regulations and tax policies. We have to make the U.S. a competitive, business friendly environment to compete globally.
The Chinese leader Xi Jinping has congratulated Trump for his victory and called him on the phone for a conversation. In talking to Trump, Xi has mentioned four times the word cooperation for forging a more friendly and productive US-China relationship. It seems that in order to achieve cooperation China (and the U.S.) should take some specific actions. One example comes to mind which can be initiated immediately is to organize a US-China Infrastructure Development Conference. The agenda of this conference should contain business, finance and technology matters in 'infrastructure building' in both countries and in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program where both nations can cooperate and bring forward their contributions. Certainly, there are cooperation opportunities in many other domains. As citizens, we look forward to seeing such initiatives to be taken up by both countries.