Professor Yawei Liu led a discussion on Chinese perceptions of President-elect Donald Trump and how that might have an impact on future U.S.-Chinese relations Wednesday.
Liu said that China has to decide whether to bait Trump to create conflict or attempt to make peace with the President-elect.
“I think it’s going to be more of the latter,” Liu said. “China is going to be patient, relying on Trump’s advisers to educate him and help him to understand that their relationship is too big to fail.”
He said that while many believe that Trump’s actions have caused further division between them, there may be a chance for improvement.
“There are some who think that the more problems Trump creates, the more opportunity there is for reform,” Liu said.
Some of those reforms may come in the form of increased dialogue about the elements of American democracy. Recently, a top Chinese official sparked an outcry with his words about judicial independence.
“Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said that checks and balances were a Western poison,” Liu said. “This was widely reported and received a lot of backlash.”
The outcry from the Chinese people eventually caused the speech to be taken down from the Internet. Still, many of Trump’s actions, like praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, have drawn criticism from the Chinese government.
“America has never taken land from China. Russia has taken millions of acres of land,” Liu said. “The Chinese are gravely concerned, but there is nothing they can do about it.”
One of the issues plaguing Chinese-American relations in the future is China’s record of human rights abuses. Initially, Western politicians believed that giving China exposure to capitalism would help correct this, but ultimately this proved ineffective.
“It’s too simplistic an idea that introducing the market economy would change China,” Liu said. “When Western leaders realized this and became disappointed, they created a grand new strategy.”
Liu described an ultimatum in which China would have to prove that it cared for its people or lose American trade.
“In the long run, China will not be in picture.” Liu said, noting that if there is no change in China’s behavior, eventually American values will put a halt to trade.
Jiao Zhou, a junior majoring in business administration, felt that this was especially concerning because trade between the United States and China appears to be reliable.
“The two systems probably won’t work, China and the United States, because the political situation is so complex, so different,” Zhou said. “People always say that global trade is very important. Trade is so interconnected so the market will work together, but you never know what the future will be.”
Another source of contention discussed was China’s currency, which is kept artificially low compared to other currency values to promote trade.
“Trump has promised that on day one, he will label China as a currency manipulator,” Liu said. “Recently, China has allowed the exchange rate to flow.”
While Liu is not sure how China will respond, he said he believes it will bide its time.
Bill Preston, a USC alumnus who also attended the event, said the only way to work through tension is through engagement and open dialogue.
“We’re either going to live together as brothers and sisters, or we’re going to perish as fools,” Preston said. “It’s so much easier to be civil toward one another if we engage each other. We have so much in common with each other, we need each other and we have to work together.”