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Trade war not driven by ideology, says director at Tsinghua University

By Chen Yu | | Updated: 2018-07-13 09:38

CD: You have mentioned that we should prevent the war from escalating into an ideology competition. Is this a motivation behind the Trump administration’s trade policies? If not, what do you think is the motivation behind such actions?

Yan: On the surface, Trump administration claims that they want to balance trade deficit, but my understanding is that their actual purpose is to regain dominant influence, and they now want to abandon the trade order based on the WTO, which was actually established by the US. But, to use their words, the WTO is “dominated by China, rather than the US.” So they want to quit the WTO and re-establish an order favorable to the US.

The US has also quit several UN organizations including the human rights council. These institutions were actually initiated by the US but now Trump said that “hey, these institutions are no longer instruments to the US, but are used against the US.”

And the reason behind such changes may have something to do with Trump’s understanding of leadership, which is different from that of the liberals.
Liberalism believes that they should get other countries to follow America’s leadership, but for Trump, leadership means to force other countries to follow the leadership if it is favorable to the interest of the United States. Trump thinks that leadership is not worth maintaining if the cost of maintaining the leadership exceeds the benefits gained from it. Trump is more concerned with dominance. Dominance is different from leadership in that instead of getting others support by earning their confidence, dominance imposing the will of the leading country by means of force or power.

There are two basic sources of leadership, one is power, the other is authority. You can use power to coerce others into acting under your will; or you have enough authority that others are confident in you and will willingly follow your lead.

Trump’s approach leans toward the first one. The Trump administration is trying to get other countries to follow America’s will by force.

CD: If so, what are the chances that Trump administration will re-establish an “America-friendly” world order?

Yan: Not likely. The America’s power is on the decline while the Trump administration is not providing enough authority to gain others’ confidence in the US and supplement its decreasing power. Thus, it is very hard for them to lead effectively or to rebuild a new world order, which requires more power than to disrupt the current one.

CD: The World Peace Forum is to be held in Tsinghua University this weekend, from July 14 to 15. This year’s forum is themed “Constructing a Security Community: Equality, Equity and Justice”. How should we understand the word “security” in today’s international situation?

Yan: The state of “security” is defined as no threat no fear and no uncertainty. But in reality, there’s no absolute security. What we strive to achieve is the state of being relatively secure.

This year, amid the tit-for-tat tariff exchanges, trade order will be a buzzword at the forum.

About the World Peace Forum:

The World Peace Forum is a high-level non-governmental global forum on international security held under the approval of the State Council. This year, Yang Jiechi, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, will attend and address at the opening ceremony, while former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, former European Council President and former European Commission president are also invited to attend the forum. Diplomatic envoys of more than 40 countries and 70 think tank scholars from 23 countries will be present at the event.

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