Trump on magazine cover Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump-Xi Strategic Face-Off

At the summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, each leader will try to extract concessions from the other on issues such as trade, North Korea's nuclear program, and the South China Sea. But whether Trump realizes it or not, Xi is already holding all the cards.

SINGAPORE – In ancient times, Chinese emperors never traveled to another country to meet its new ruler. Rather, that ruler, or his envoy, would visit China’s imperial capital to request investiture from the Son of Heaven.

The fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has traveled thousands of miles to meet US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, rather than receiving Trump in the Forbidden City, suggests that China recognizes its own status as a lesser power vis-à-vis the United States.

But that does not mean that Xi considers this status to be permanent. On the contrary, he might be anticipating that the two countries’ strategic standing will change very quickly if the US does not do more to preserve its global primacy.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.



Register for FREE to access two premium articles per month.