Trump Xi meeting Artyom Ivanov/TASS/Getty Images

Prospects for US-China Relations in 2019

China's leaders will attempt to re-stabilize bilateral ties and ease tensions in its non-US relationships. At the same time, they are likely to use the next year to form a deeper judgment about the future of US politics and foreign policy.

NEW YORK – Throughout 2018, much of Asia has been shaken by the new and increasingly unpredictable dynamics in Sino-American relations. One year ago, US President Donald Trump returned from Beijing after his “state-plus” visit, which China hoped had finally laid his anti-Chinese campaign rhetoric to rest. Twelve months later, China and the United States are caught in an unresolved trade war, and Trump’s administration has replaced US “strategic engagement” with China with “strategic competition.”

One year ago, moreover, the US, European, and Chinese economies and markets were roaring. Now, there is deep instability in financial markets, with growth slowing in China and Europe, and higher interest rates beginning to bite in America. Uncertainty over the future of the North Korean nuclear negotiations is also darkening the picture.

So what are the prospects for US-China relations in 2019? It’s probable that by March there will be an agreement on reducing the bilateral trade deficit and the import decisions that China will make to see it through. An agreement on tariff reductions by then is also possible, although its complexity may lengthen the timeline. A tariff-by-tariff approach could take a year. But if Chinese economic reformers take a more dramatic approach, by committing to zero tariffs over time and challenging the Americans to reciprocate, it could be concluded more rapidly. But this would run counter to decades of Chinese trade bureaucrats’ training to give away little, let alone be seen as giving away everything at once.

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