by Mamtimin Ala
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan
Mar-a-Lago in April 2017
two crucial factors
at the forefront
of the US-China trade war:
qualities and personalities
of Donald Trump
and Xi Jinping...
The trade war between
the US and
China continues, despite the
announcement of the 90-day truce to allow further negotiations.
While the Chinese state
media is largely mute on this truce, the US is amplifying its
rhetoric, intensifying pressure on China to abandon its unfair and
manipulative business practices, and demanding compliance to
international trade laws.
The trade war initiated
by the US against China continues because there is much more at
This war is not exclusively about resolving the current
conflicting trade practices:
it is more about who is going to shape
new world order in the future.
This war therefore
requires the utilization of as many diverse resources as possible
for both parties - economic, diplomatic, cultural, and even
Aside from these, there
are two crucial factors at the forefront of this trade war, being
the leadership qualities and personalities of the two leaders of the
US and China:
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping within the context of their domestic and international
There are a number of
trade conditions that the US is expecting China to meet through this
requirements for China to,
Furthermore, the US is
requiring China to stop manipulating currency to promote exports and
illegally obtaining the US technology through hacking, industrial
espionage, and intellectual property theft.
If China agrees to
implement these conditions, it will have to reform its current
domestic economic model and its international trade practices.
In particular, if China discontinues its traditional economic model
of subsiding the state-owned enterprises, this will then break, to a
certain extent, the organic link between the Chinese companies and
This is precisely what
the US considers as a source of unfair competition between the
companies of both nations.
However, within China,
this will be a
litmus test for how far the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) is able to change itself. It will either be forced
to reform itself to comply with the new trade agreements and,
resultantly, will embrace the existing world order and its trade
rules, instead of threatening them.
Or, it will defy harder
the pressure from the US while keeping its monopoly over state-owned
enterprises to get financial benefits from them, continuously posing
itself as an ever more formidable trade rival to the US.
Underneath this trade war, there is a palpable conflict of two
values, cultures, belief systems, sentimentalities, and histories,
which often are incompatible.
This incompatibility also
manifests in the personalities and leadership traits of both Donald
Trump and Xi Jinping. Indeed, they cannot unilaterally determine who
will win this war.
However, they will
Both leaders are highly pragmatic, notably determined and shrewdly
Being a pragmatist doesn't undermine their idealistic
aspirations as they both perceive themselves to be endowed with a
mission to usher their nation in a new era.
Trump's mission is to
"Make America great again," as the capturing slogan of the previous
US elections, whereas Xi's mission is to rejuvenate China again in
pursuit of the "Chinese Dream".
In this sense, both of them are
Trump intends to re-establish strength, glory and self-confidence to
Xi intends to revitalize the great spirit of the
Chinese nation, asserting its persistent ascendency to the position
of a global superpower vis-à-vis the US.
Trump aims to
grow the US economy, which has never really been recovered
from the recession precipitated by the collapse of the
housing bubble in 2007.
Xi aims to bring
to fruition the collective desire of the Chinese people for
global participation and recognition as the leading
super-power supported by the accumulative wealth of their
With these visions, they
have surreptitiously portrayed themselves as political saviors who
will change the fate of their people through confrontation with
their enemy in this trade war.
In this sense, the way
this war ends will have far-reaching effects on their nation's
prosperity, and on the visions they have created for the future.
Therefore, these missions
have already been deeply embedded in this war.
Despite these similarities, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping have many
differentiations of personality and leadership traits.
of personality and leadership traits are somewhat interconnected,
and therefore are examined interchangeably in this context.
blatantly blunt and highly boastful to a level of
self-obsession, described by some as narcissistic personality
disorder, Trump displays a complex leadership style. He
is an unconventional politician with a sharp sensitivity to
cost-effectiveness entrenched from his entrepreneurial expertise
He has an extraordinary
determination not to be distracted by blaming, personal attacks,
allegations, and criticisms from Democrats, human rights activists,
world leaders, feminists, and former US Presidents, etc.
He is unpredictable,
eccentric, attention-seeking, and brash. Despite having constantly
been mired in a series of scandals, he continues navigating the
captain's ship towards a destination, be it a bright or dark
In addition to this complexity observed in his personality and
leadership style, he is a man of contradiction.
His famous slogan of
"Making America Great Again" is at odds with his aspiration to make
his legacy even greater than this. His intention to reshape the
world order clashes at a personal level with his disdain for and
mistrust in international norms, principles and agencies, coupled
with the chaotic way he leads the US with the absence of coherent
domestic and foreign policies.
His self-described "war"
with the US media pits him against the principles of accountability
and transparency that he is currently seeking from his trade foe,
Furthermore, his highly
pragmatic political endeavors to advance democratic values are not
reflected in his admiration for dictators and strong leaders around
An example of this is his
irresistible praise for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping
who are notorious abusers of these values.
By virtue of or, perhaps, despite these contradictions, he is a
formidable US President that must not be underestimated. In
particular, he is an unusual leader, given his complete disregard
for the consequences of his decisions, even though it may have him
impeached, or cost him a next presidential term.
His personality and
leadership style, for the most part, encompass what is required to
succeed in the current trade war he is waging against China.
Moreover, his resilience in his relentless pursuit of what he sees
as vital, valuable and victorious mostly from a business perspective
is exactly what is indispensable in winning this complex war.
To win this war, Trump is perfectly able to use any of the resources
at his disposal against China.
He may decide to utilize
the diplomatic and economic solidarity of its allies to persuade or
pressurize China to succumb to the US terms and conditions of new
This will isolate China
gradually in the international market, and contain its ambition to
manipulate the trade practices to its advantage.
The challenge for him to
achieve this goal is that he has already complicated the US
relationship with its allies, in particular with
the European Union,
being deeply divided on how to respond in unison to the unfair trade
practices of China.
However, they have no
other option than being allied with US in this trade war. If not,
then they will be falling into the hands of China, which would be
worse than standing idle in this war.
Military supremacy is the
other resource, a crucial but costly one. It may be necessary as a
last resort to finish this war.
For this purpose, Trump must create a synergy of collective
leadership to tackle China's ambition to dominate the world trade.
This is a vital and advantageous political dynamism for Trump to
For China has
already lost the tradition of collective leadership as a key
component of the CCP operations under the spell of Xi.
In addition, its
ever-intensifying military presence in the disputed South China Sea
has already put it in an isolated position. Trump may utilize the
tactic of portraying the US as a moral high ground to align the
moral force of its allies against China.
Further to this, the
Uyghur humanitarian crisis, while unfolding tragically at the
command of Xi, is a great opportunity for Trump to expose the
degraded and dangerous immoral action of its trade rival to the
world, capitalizing on the moral message being both powerful and
Comparatively, Xi Jinping is equally aggressive, albeit
characteristically ambiguously so.
As a princeling, he is
privileged with the legitimacy of his power as part of the political
culture of China. This legitimacy has been tarnished and made
fragile due to his "crusade" against corruption.
This has widely
been perceived as politically motivated, selectively punitive and
procedurally unfair, bringing him more enemies than friends inside
and outside of the conclave of
Zhongnanhai, the heart of the CCP.
Politically, he does not
have any comprehensive economic policies to revive the current
economic situation of China, which has already started to be
crippled due to the high tariffs being put on the imported goods
This further brings into
disrepute the legitimacy of his power, despite references to him as
the "chairman of everything" in China, seemingly unchallengeable.
However, if the trade war is sustained, causing China into a long
economic downturn, his power will face severe and, potentially,
The greatest challenge to
Xi is likely to come from within the CCP - in particular within the
Politburo Standing Committee - as he may be seen as failing to keep
the political equilibrium defined by the core ideology of the CCP -
Centralized democracy was originally proposed by
on eloquently by Mao Zedong, and implemented successfully by
It represents how the CCP
makes a decision collectively while mediating skillfully the
conflicting interests of party members and political groups in
consideration of putting the legitimacy of the CCP a priority.
Ideally, equilibrium exists between these two polarized factors -
centralized management and democratic engagement - through a
mediating process as defined by Hegelian dialectic.
This dialectic stipulates
that binary oppositional forces will eventually be mediated in a
If the political power is
too centralized, then the decision making process becomes arbitrary
and wrong, whereas if democracy is too dominant, then chaos and even
Hence, these two forces
need to be mediated constantly, avoiding polarization and ensuring
There are some factions inside China who are unhappy with the
over-concentration of authority Xi imposes and exerts over them. For
them, it is not against the rule of democracy but against the
principle of centralized democracy.
Xi has made dangerous
maneuvers to destabilize this equilibrium towards
over-centralization of his power under the pretext of a fight
against corruption. This fight has fractured the volatile
equilibrium within the CCP, curbing the political influence of some
elite politicians from different political factions.
The current trade war
will resurface the suppressed political intentions of these elites,
who either previously or currently are sidelined by Xi, to be united
In this sense, he will be
compelled to fight two wars at once:
He will be torn by the simultaneous strains of
these wars, costing him his power, vision and, potentially, his
life, if he is unable to conquer his opponents in both fronts.
The survival of the CCP, therefore, becomes a critical issue within
The party is facing the
current domestic challenges of ever-growing unemployment,
mismanagement of the banking system, wide-spread corruption, a
widening gap between rich and poor, ecological degradation and
The trade war makes the
current economic situation even worse.
The approximate 90
million CCP members in China will never tolerate the prospect of
seeing the demise of their party. Hence, as the trade war
intensifies, Xi finds himself under enormous pressure domestically
to revive China's economy and to re-establish the political
equilibrium of centralized democracy.
Pragmatically, in response to this very pressure, Xi could
potentially choose to either relinquish some of his power as a sign
of reconciliation with his opponents, or to create a facade
representing the interests of the strongest political group or
faction in China's political arena, or to allow sweeping political
However, it is not in
Xi's nature to act in such a passive way.
His alternative and more
aggressive resources, as is his style, will be to mobilize Chinese
nationalism as a traditional ploy against the US diverting the
attention of the public from his failures, and focusing on defeating
the externally perceived enemy.
He may also carry out
pervasive political purges within the CCP to clear his way towards
absolute dominance that his great spiritual mentor Mao did during
the Cultural Revolution, concealing his own gross political
The implementation of these methods will internalize and conceal the
damage caused to China by the trade war in a self-destructive way on
a massive scale. As a result, the CCP will either be weakened
severely or disintegrated altogether.
Inadvertently, this will
assist the US in being victorious in this trade war with China by
sending the current tension between the two countries into the heart
of the CCP.
If China is defeated by
the US in this trade war, then Xi will be scapegoated and held
accountable for the humiliation of the nation, thanks to the fact
that he is the most powerful leader in China after Mao.
For leadership is about
responsibility, not only about power. Therefore, the trade war will
bring to the forefront the simmering war within the CCP.
Trump and Xi Jinping are representatives of two different political
Trump is the leader of the most advanced Western liberal
democracy. Being the President of
the US is often colloquially referred to as the "leader of the free
world" whose aim is supposedly to protect and perpetuate
rights, the rule of law and representative democracy.
However, Trump does not
often conform to these democratic principles, nor the ideologies of
the political system he represents.
The never-ending "war"
that he has waged against his own government is intensified by the
political scandals of recent days:
withdrawals from Syria
a resumed plan to
construct the highly controversial Mexico wall
staff turnovers, including the resignation of his defense
minister, the latest in a string of senior US officials to
This will not only cast a
shadow over the political stability of the Trump administration, but
also the psychological stability of Trump himself.
Comparatively, Xi is a leader of a totalitarian and autocratic
regime that has no respect for the rule of law, appeasing
exclusively the interests of a few selected Communist elites.
represents the CCP, which is the only legitimizing source of any
political power in China. Politically speaking, the
raison d'etre of the CCP is the functionality of generating wealth,
and its ideology is adjusted to serve this purpose.
It is a
pseudo-ideological entity, given it has significantly deviated from
the original thoughts and visions of Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong as
its spiritual leaders.
Therefore, behind the
name of the Chinese Communist Party lies the existence of the
gigantic political infrastructure, ironically resembling more of an
intrinsic capitalist society in China, where an elite group of
apparent Communists are privileged in line with their position in
the colossal networks of relationships (guan xi) and with their
loyalty to the CCP and its leader, Xi.
Xi's leadership of the
CCP will, therefore, be judged exclusively by the people of China
against his ability to achieve this embedded purpose of the
so-called Chinese Dream, not ideologically but practically.
If the trade war with the
US is economically damaging to the Chinese people, this will be
critical for Xi's leadership. Under such circumstances, Xi will then
escalate his actions more dangerously for his political survival.
Trump is not exceptional to vulnerabilities either, which are
inherent in the political system he operates within. If the trade
war continues beyond the first and even possibly the second term of
his presidency, it is unclear how the successor of Trump will be
able to continue this decisive war against China successfully.
But this is not the case
for Xi. As long as he survives
all the challenges from within and without the CCP, he will be able
to command the direction of the war with great consistency,
efficiency and resilience, as he was appointed as president with no
time limit early this year.
Hence, for Trump, the shorter the trade
war, the more effective its result will become, not only
economically for the US but also politically for his legacy.
Definitely, the result of this trade war will change the world
irreversibly and determine the fate of these two leaders.
being victorious in this trade war is highly likely at this stage,
given a multitude of advantages that he can exert against China. He will be perceived as a
US president who waged a just war against a nation which has no
respect for democracy, the rule of law and international principles.
Hence, he will be revered as a national hero by many in creating
fairer and more secure trade agreements with China, reasserting the
US as the dominant superpower.
The same may never
eventuate for Xi Jinping.
While the trade war will run its own course, the two leaders will
utilize their strengths and resources to influence it for their own
advantage and the advantage of their respective nations.
It is not the
re-acknowledgement of theory or ideology that only heroes write
It will ultimately be the whims, passions and visions of
these two leaders, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, which influence the
course of history in a totally unpredictable way.
As such, the current
trade war will, without a doubt, be affected by the efforts of
heroes and villains to influence it with their unique personalities,
strengths and flaws.
These two leaders will be
fairly judged by history, only after the conclusion of this war...