This week has been a wild one in terms of the U.S. and its relation to the World. Most strikingly, of course, were the missile strikes leveled against Syria. Trump authorized these as a chastisement for the use of chemical attacks that were used against the Syrian people earlier in the week. These strikes became the headlines for any news source worth its salt, and rightfully so. These strikes were meaningful in more ways than is easily addressable here, because there were other important events that, taken in tandem, can be considered just as, if not more, important than the military action in Syria.
On Friday, President Xi Jinping met with President Trump at Mar-A-Lago to negotiate trade agreements and enter a relationship with the new president. Not only is it just as important, but it can place the military action in Syria into context. This was an important meeting, as the leaders of the two biggest economies in the world met. While meetings such as these are normal for newly elected leaders, this meeting promised an interesting discussion.
For one, Trump was outspokenly anti-China during his election campaign. He consistently attacked the country for unfair trade deals, taking power away from American manufacturers and other actions. This alone would make for a terse meeting about economics. Yet, in his first days as President, Trump further antagonized China by making an official phone call to Taiwan (essentially undermining the official narrative of China and acknowledging Taiwan as sovereign) and by moving more military force into an increasingly volatile South China Sea. Thus, the planned meeting between China and Trump was looking to be more of a powder keg than anything.
At first it was a run-of-the-mill meeting, and it was never, per a few sources, tense or anything less than friendly. Yet, once the two leaders had finished their steaks, Trump informed him that as they had been speaking, the U.S. had launched an attack on Syria in the form of tomahawk missiles. His next order of business was to press President Xi to take similar action in curbing North Korean aggression.
This was a wildly bold move on Trumps part for a few reasons. First, to launch an attack during a meeting with the head of a nation with whom there is considerable military tension is bold in and of itself. Second, it is more a statement of how little it will take for Trump to exercise military force.
While the chemical attacks in Syria were atrocious, and little justification is needed in rationalizing a counterattack, it is hardly the only blatant human rights violation going on in the world today. I mean this: the attack on Syria was not so much a moral statement as a political one, one that says “America has the means to intervene meaningfully abroad, and will do so for less than has been the case in the past.” Indeed, the whole thing ended up feeling like a mild warning to China, a “if you don’t do something, we will.” Bold indeed.
While President Xi himself seemed to be undeterred and was even quoted agreeing with Trump that steps need to be taken when chemical weapons are used, the official Chinese media sang a different song in response to the strikes.
In fact, they condemned it, sticking to a traditional Chinese distaste for military intervention abroad since WWII. The Media even called into question the timing of it, labeling it morally repugnant, as Syria could not strike back and rejecting the assertion that China is in a similar situation with North Korea. Regardless, Trump’s goal for the meeting was to even out the trade discrepancy between China and the U.S. and to try to rouse China into military action against North Korea. Neither of these two things were achieved.
While President Xi spoke a big game in addressing the economic discrepancies between the U.S. and China, he was also not there to concede any economic advantage gained to trump. In fact, the only agreement reached was upon the “100day plan,” which essentially is a promise that China and the U.S. will enter discussion about bridging the 310-billion-dollar trade deficit for the U.S.
However, just what the plan will be, and how China and the U.S. intends to increase the fairness of our trade has yet to be seen, and so far can be seen as not being meaningfully addressed in any way. Thus, while it is promising that China is willing to address it, no progress was made in the actual changing of the system, meaning President Xi made none of the concessions that Trump was hoping for.
In the same vein, the missile strikes against Syria seem to have had the opposite effect than what Trump had hoped, as, instead of galvanizing China against North Korea, it further dropped the official opinion of China towards the U.S.. Essentially, while the meeting seemed to pay dividends between the two men personally, officially, it is possible that the only thing that was accomplished was to further antagonize a China already at odds with the U.S., the fallout of which remains to be seen.