Nye also brought up the issue for Trump to consider, that as Russia is in decline, it is actually more dangerous to America, since it will see the world more pessimistically than China. He thought it would be dangerous to mix the roles of Russia and China and to avoid isolating or vilifying China. Zoellick also brought up the critical question: what are China’s aims? Is it to dominate the Western Pacific? The world? He believes that we need to differentiate between what a country wants and what it could actually or will actually do, and what costs the country would need to pay. If America focuses on what Beijing “dreams of,” Washington quickly moves into the danger of them “as the new enemy.” In regards to Taiwan, Allison pressed the panel on what should be done about it. Winnefeld expressed skepticism of whether the United States would defend Taiwan, saying that because Beijing sees it as so important to its national interest, that if China started hostilities, America would likely defend Taipei, but if Taiwan were to initiate hostilities by declaring independence, the United States could be more sympathetic to the Chinese and be less likely to go to war with Beijing. Zoellick mentioned the precarious history of Taiwan, especially the fact of how China lost Taiwan to Japan in wars in the mid-nineteenth century, making territorial integrity critical in the minds of Chinese leaders. He thought that the issue came down to that if Taipei declares independence, Beijing could not back down politically. It would mean war. So what is the game? Would Trump trade Taiwan? Unconventional steps are not bad; the focus needs to be how it adds to larger strategy.
In short, the panel agreed that Trump could and should press China, but to be careful about the long game and what the purpose of aggravating the Chinese was. Trump needs to think about the overall deal and the sum of the parts in Asia, not just the success of individual deals with nations.
Blake Franko is an assistant editor at the National Interest.
Image: A U.S. Army soldier during partnered live fire range training at Tactical Base Gamberi, Afghanistan. Flickr/U.S. Army