Robert D. Blackwill: Grading Donald Trump's Foreign Policy

Author:Robert D. Blackwill Date:2019-05-15

On the evening of May 13, 2019, the Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University (PKU) held the 34th seminar of "North Pavilion Seminar" series. Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, former associate dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and former U.S. ambassador to India, gave a seminar entitled "Grading Donald Trump's Foreign Policy". The seminar was hosted by Wang Jisi, President of the IISS and Professor of the School of International Studies (SIS), PKU.

At the seminar, Blackwill first recalled his experience of visiting China with Kissinger in the 1970s, and then discussed the topic in the following aspects: (1) the current world order; (2) the U.S.'s diplomatic miscalculations that had a major negative impact on the U.S. in history; (3) China's strategic intentions and the U.S.'s current perceptions and strategies toward China; (4) evaluation of the foreign policy of China and the U.S.; (5) the future of Sino-U.S. relations.

Regarding the current world order, Blackwill believed that its complexity is manifested in the following points. First, China has experienced a strong rise. Second, for hundreds of years, Europe has been further and further away from the center of the world order. Third, Russia is beginning to revive. Fourth, the international differences in NATO have become more apparent. Fifth, the turbulent situation in the Middle East is still difficult to be addressed. Sixth, the U.S. leadership has become weaker.

Subsequently, Blackwill reviewed several major diplomatic miscalculations of the U.S. The first is the Johnson Administration's miscalculation of the intention and strength of North Vietnam. The second is the Bush administration's miscalculation of the situation in Iraq in 2003. The third is that in the past two decades, the successive U.S. administrations have miscalculated China's intentions and strategies. The U.S. once believed that it could achieve a strategic partnership with China, but Blackwill held that this judgment is wrong.

Regarding China's strategic intention, Blackwell pointed out that the U.S. government has already gained a new understanding of U.S.-China relations. The U.S. now believes that China's strategic intention is to replace the U.S. as the leading country in Asia, and China's rise is the biggest strategic threat the U.S. will face in the coming decades. At present, the U.S. Congress has basically reached a consensus on China internally, and President Trump has begun to put pressure on China by starting with the trade war.

Blackwill believed that Trump's foreign policy is generally better than what the critics in the U.S. believe. Yet he held that Trump's decision of withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and putting pressure on allies is wrong, because the U.S. needs allies to deal with the rise of China. He graded Trump's diplomacy to China as B+. In addition, Blackwill believed that China's foreign policy is too high-profile, which has provoked the U.S.'s countermeasures.

Lastly, Blackwell believed that the U.S. should continue to maintain considerable presence in Asia. The Sino-U.S. strategic competition will not have a true "end", because neither China nor the U.S. will make "fundamental changes". Yet China and the U.S. should work hard to avoid falling into a protracted confrontation, because a serious confrontation between the two countries will undermine the interests of the people of the two countries, and will also destabilize the world and bring disaster to mankind.

In the discussion session, Blackwill had exchanges and discussions with the teachers and students present at the seminar on issues such as the relations between the U.S. and Iran and the China-U.S. people-to-people exchange. (Contributed by Li Boran)

Editor: Li Fangqi, photography: Zheng Peijie

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