Trump’s visit to China was remarkably friendly. He did not demonstrate any of the bombastic rhetoric that was both celebrated and despised during the 2016 election. He did not have any of the authoritarian, autocratic manner demonstrated by the star of The Apprentice. He never made any concessions, only friendly gestures. He was largely silent on policy and quite loud about his desire for cooperation.
This was a very different side of Trump. Those familiar with him were not surprised. Those who fear him might believe it was fake. But, it was a very different side Trump who went to China and, yet, he is still the same Donald Trump.
This does not speak about Trump himself. It says much more about China—or, perhaps better and more specifically, it will say much more about China in the months ahead.
China maintains disputes with a vast number of nations. It would be interesting to see a budget report on how much money China spends by not abandoning its overlapping claims to various lands and islands across its surrounding borders and seas. Disputed territory needs propaganda to be authored and disseminated.
China makes evident efforts with companies, such as the courier industry that often denotes Taiwan with the parenthetical note (Province of China)—something that no company would think to do on its own by observing the status quo or by visiting Taiwan. Many governments would gladly normalize relations with Taiwan, but China’s terms prevent that. When Trump received a congratulatory Skype call from Taiwan’s President Tsai, China noticed and made comments. That’s just Taiwan, there is also Japan, the Philippines, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Russia.
China knows how to end disputes. Over the last 15 years, China has settled disputes with Tajikistan and both North and South Korea. For whatever reason, and at a price that is unknown as it is likely high, China maintains these ongoing disputes with neighbors.
During his travels in Asia, Trump offered to help mediate any disputes over territory. The Philippines welcomed Trump’s offer as friendly. China prefers to settle those disputes directly without help.
There is a takeaway lesson from this: China has been given a highway to peace with its neighbors. Once such an opportunity presents itself with widely open arms, peace is expected. When such peace is so expected, no less is accepted, and victory fought against that peace is impossible.