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Emma Nelson
December 2016.
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Is Donald Trump likely to clash with China over the South China Sea?
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It could go either way. I think we may well see some kind of Chinese provocation in the first few weeks or months after Trump is inaugurated. They’ll just try test him in order to see what his reaction is. Donald Trump has taken a very anti-China line on trade. It also looks like he's appointing people who want to build up the American military to push back against China. The focus in this area is on the Navy in particular. But, at the same time you see the kind of guy who likes to talk about doing deals. James Woolsey, the former CIA director, is on Trump’s transition team. He's written an article for the South China Morning Post in which he talked about a 'Grand Deal' between the US and China, in which China respects the status quo in the South China Sea and everybody else happily ever after. But this is only as long as it’s accepted that the United States holds the balance of power.

“Trump effectively said that the South China Sea problems are just about 'a bunch of rocks'.”

Early on in his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said words to the effect that the South China Sea problems are only about just a bunch of rocks and the United States is not prepared to go to war for that. Once he takes office, however, he's going to have to realise that it's about a lot more than that: it's about the US's alliances with Asian countries including Japan and South Korea and Australia. It's about the US relationship with Taiwan. America didn't take the position it did on the South China Sea just to annoy the Chinese. It's because it sees a much bigger picture here. So, it's possible that his views may all change when he gets into office.

But fundamentally he's skeptical about China. He sees it as a risk to American prosperity. So one can see him taking a much harder line in public. But, of course, with the possibility that maybe he's prepared to do a deal quietly as well.