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The Enlightenment of President Trump?

OXFORD – The past three weeks have given the world a stunning role reversal in global governance. The United States, the world’s long-time leader in forging international cooperation, has begun to express a unilateralist creed, striking fear into the hearts of many countries worldwide. And China, long reticent about multilateralism, has committed to upholding – even leading – international cooperation.

Since his inauguration in January, US President Donald Trump has effectively taken a wrecking ball to America’s global role. He has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and redrawn the parameters of negotiations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With regard to China, he has not only threatened to impose tariffs, but also raised the possibility that he will defy the “One China” policy that his predecessors, Republicans and Democrats alike, have respected for decades.

Trump has also signed executive orders to bar nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US and to build a wall on the border with Mexico, among other things. And his team has drafted additional executive orders that will reduce or even terminate funding for international organizations and withdraw the US from multilateral treaties.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent rhetoric and behavior stands in stark contrast to Trump’s. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, he asserted that multilateralism is critical to our collective future. In a statement seemingly directed at the US, he continued, “We should honor promises and abide by rules. One should not select or bend rules as he sees fit.” He was even more pointed in criticizing the prospect of abandoning the Paris climate agreement – as Trump has threatened to do.