Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of International Relations at China’s Tsinghua University speaks at World Economic Forum in Dalian on June 29, 2017. In a recent interview with Chinese state media, Yan praised U.S. President Trump’s new national security strategy and said that it could restore U.S. influences around the world. (Photo via World Economic Forum/Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary)
President Donald Trump’s new National Security Strategy has received praise from an unlikely source: A preeminent Chinese foreign policy scholar who is well-known in China for his writings concerning the competition between the United States and China. Trump’s new strategy, if implemented, could quickly restore U.S. power around the globe and help it challenge China’s expansion, he said.
The strategy paper released last month lays out the Trump administration’s plan to confront the “revisionist powers” of Russia and China. It has been widely perceived as especially targeting the Chinese regime, which the paper and many of Trump’s advisors and officials alike have described as the biggest threat to the national security and interests of the United States and its allies in the coming decades.
While the new strategy has been praised by many foreign policy experts, it has also received some partisan criticism. The New York Times, for example, called it “inward-looking and unpredictable.”
Among those that have praised the paper is Yan Xuetong, one of China’s most influential and well-known foreign policy thinkers and the Dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University.
In a recent interview with China’s state mouthpiece Global Times, the veteran Chinese academic said that the developments of 2017 have partially confirmed his prediction made in 2016 that Trump’s ascension to the presidency would intensify the growing conflict between the United States and China.
Having published numerous writings analyzing China’s foreign policy and its competition with the United States for global dominance, Yan has been described as China’s most influential foreign policy “realist,” namely someone who sees international order as being predominantly shaped by competition between great powers.
According to Yan, prior to Trump, the “establishment view” among the U.S. foreign policy community sees the maintenance of existing U.S. leadership around the world as naturally in the country’s best strategic interests. Such leadership, however, could become a costly endeavor without sufficient contributions from U.S. allies, as Trump has repeatedly argued. It could also mislead the United States into investing in what Yan often described in his academic writings as “superficial friendship” with strategic competitors—such as China—while ignoring intentions and actions that are fundamentally hostile to the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump speak to Chinese business leaders on November 9, 2017 in Beijing, China during his 10-day trip to Asia. Trump’s focus on boosting U.S. domestic economy and national strength is a logical response to growing challenges posed by China, said Yan Xuetong, one of China’s top foreign policy scholars. (Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)
The key difference between Obama’s and Trump’s strategies, according to Yan, is that Obama focused on maintaining “political leadership” around the world, while Trump sees economic dynamics and competition as the most important consideration, particularly regarding China.
Yan said that Trump sees the decline in U.S. national power as the most critical problem, and wants to reset the priorities of U.S. foreign policy to boosting the domestic economy so as to ultimately strengthen the overall power of the nation. Such a view is not “isolationism,” as many Western critics have incorrectly labeled it, Yan said. Instead, it is a predictable strategy to deal with the new challenges facing the United States in the era of globalization.