US President Donald Trump shakes hand with China's President Xi Jinping FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Xi’s Strong Hand Against Trump

Donald Trump's recently announced trade tariffs and upcoming summit with North Korea give China an unprecedented opportunity to prove its strength before the eyes of the world. If Xi Jinping suspects that such a display will bolster China’s international standing while undercutting that of the US, he may decide to act accordingly.

LONDON – The world will soon witness a historic test of wills between China and the United States, two superpowers whose leaders see themselves as supreme. In the immediate sense, it will be a battle over trade. But also at stake is the strategic leadership of East Asia and, eventually, the international order. As things stand, China holds a stronger position than many people realize. The question is whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will feel confident or brazen enough to want to prove it.

The test of wills was hardly China’s choice; but nor does it come as a surprise. US President Donald Trump’s recently announced import tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other Chinese-made goods are in keeping with his brand of economic nationalism. And his decision to accept North Korea’s invitation to hold bilateral talks on its nuclear program reflects the same “bring it on” attitude that he applied to the North’s earlier threats of war.

The upcoming test will be historic because it promises to reveal the true strengths and attitudes of the world’s rising power vis-à-vis the weakened but still leading incumbent power. For better or worse, the result could shape the world for decades to come.

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