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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

But China's waiting to see if he actually does anything.

Happy Holidays! President Donald Trump gave a speech on Monday in which he described (broadly) his administration’s national security strategy. Though he only mentioned them once and twice by name respectively, he called China and Russia “rival powers.” Okay.

The Chinese and Russian governments reacted predictably to the rhetoric, in the speech and the accompanying policy document. And some have noted the marked shift in rhetoric between the Trump and Obama administrations.

This language was closer to what Trump said on the campaign trail than what he’s said earlier this year – when he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at the fabulous Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and then during his visit to Beijing in November. The talk of economic rivalry, of competition in trade and jobs, is a return to campaign form after Monday’s speech.

But don’t get it twisted: So far, it’s still just talk.

And many of those who professionally watch U.S.-China diplomacy say China, in reality, isn’t yet holding its breath:

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University and a leading expert on Chinese diplomacy, was equally perplexed. “What is the strategy after all? It’s not clear,” he said.

Shi, like several other Chinese experts, read Monday’s speech as a sign that the White House may adopt a tougher line on China, but cautioned against taking Trump at his word.

“China doesn’t pay much attention to what Trump says, it mainly pays attention to what Trump does,” he said.  

“We need to wait and see what he will do rather than what he said,” echoed Lu Xiang, an expert in Sino-U.S. relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

The gap between what Trump has said on China and what he’s done is the source of much debate here — and Monday’s speech did little to change that.

The bilateral goods trade deficit is still enormous; the Buy American, Hire American executive order has gone nowhere; and those big trade enforcement actions on steel and aluminum have been idling for over six months.

Let’s see if the president goes beyond talk and follows through on some of this stuff.