2017: A Year of Yin and Yang Diplomacy, Featuring Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Action

With the end of the year comes the traditional retrospective of the major events that marked the last months and predictions for the coming year. My retrospective is summarized in two main events revolving around two major actors: Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Each of them has marked the year with his signature. Let’s start with the first major event!

Trump effect tsunami-like on the planet: ‘‘Après moi, le déluge!’’

2016 ended with a major surprise: Trump’s election as the 45th President of the US. On January 20, 2017, his inauguration set the ball rolling on a series of events with tectonic consequences. With his daily tweets and public outings, Trump has ushered in a new era in which ‘Tweet-diplomacy’ is a new genre that disregards the usual diplomatic channels between countries.

Trump is a protectionist who does not let the market operate as it would without interference. The US is now imitating the old Continent to some extent. America first, then the rest of the world way behind, as implied clearly in his latest National Security Strategy, has enormous consequences on trade as well as on economic and social relationships between the US and the rest of the world. All of Trump’s actions have opened a breach that has allowed the BRICS to strengthen and grow. Their growth results in the US showing its limits regarding economic matters, production of wealth and circulation of goods and services. The BRICS took advantage by consolidating their positions and cornering the international market, which heralds, in turn, a multipolar world in which each regional power is starting to play its role entirely. In other words, Yalta 2.0 is emerging and becoming a reality.

Trump is part of the populist movement that is prevailing in much of the world and which clashes with intellectually-justified ‘universal’ perspectives (i.e., on human rights). He has exacerbated xenophobia by closing borders (his wall with Mexico) and with his multiple travel bans. His decisions are mostly based on personal interests and whims rather than on evidence-based reasoning. This kind of attitude appears clearly in his dealings with other countries, where his decisions are contested and are mostly followed by global outcry, the latest one being his declaration that Jerusalem is unilaterally Israel’s capital. “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue,” Nikki Haley told journalists. With the UN vote being against Trump’s decision, the US decided to cut $285 million from UN funding; this happened after the US has announced its backing away from UNESCO on October 12. Trump’s actions and decisions always surprise the world by their short-sightedness and nonobservance of diplomacy 101.

Actually, Trump behaves as a merchant, a reminder of the Founding Fathers of the US. By disengaging the US from the international political arena, the other powers started occupying the deserted ground. Russia has expanded its influence/presence in Ukraine and Syria and has strengthened its power in the Middle East. China has tightened its economic control over many countries through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Iran has received the support of the EU, China, and Russia with regards to its compliance to the JCPOA and has reinforced its regional power. Japan’s militaristic tendencies have been awakened, and North Korea’s ire is at its peak… As presented in a previous article, Make America Great Again is becoming Make Others Great Again. The US’ credibility around the world is plummeting while that of China is rising, which bring us to the second major event of the year.

Xi Jinping cult and the BRI: Socialism with Chinese characteristics conquering the world!

The politics of other countries can be interpreted by reading US politics. The Trump effect caused the resurgence of other nations, including the world’s second-largest economy. Just as Trump puts the interests of the US in the first place, Xi Jinping does the same for China by choosing different means, means that are more subtle than those used by Trump.

That said, at the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that was held between 18 and 24 October 2017, Xi Jinping became China’s most powerful leader since Mao. The cult of Xi has a distant relationship with the cult of the first founder of the Empire of the Middle Kingdom (the Qin Dynasty). This prestige is pushing Xi to change the wheels of the state according to his wishes and strengthen his control over the country, making him more and more authoritarian. The Uyghurs’ issue is just one example among many that may suffer under an even more authoritarian regime.

Xi Jinping completes the work of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative by creating roads on three continents (land roads and maritime routes) for the free movement of goods and services. At the same time, Xi Jinping controls most of the global economic landscape. Thanks to the OBOR Initiative, Xi has created a new, insidious form of domination that has the features of colonialism (without the military aspect… for the moment at least), but which has the characteristics of a new dependence that varies between commensalism and parasitism. Some countries are already under China’s control, which does not bode well for their independence.

Xi Jinping and China’s socialist model are popular in the non-Western world. It is appealing, as China is not a democracy and all of its dealings with other countries strictly concern the economic sphere; meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs and lecturing them on human rights and democracy is not part of its modus operandi. And with the rise of authoritarianism everywhere at the expense of democracy, the Chinese model will serve as a beacon providing guidance and inspiration to countries that reject the West and its ways, a West in endless crisis, which bring us to my predictions for 2018.

My predictions for 2018: Strengthening the trends undertaken in 2017

The Trump presidency has been similar in effect to notice of a grave illness: upon hearing the news, we were shattered, then came rationalization, and finally, we were left to cope. While 2017 was a year of shock at Trump becoming president, 2018 will be a year of reflection on what can be done, now that Trump has become a fixture on the world stage. The years that follow will be spent more “at ease”, as the rest of the world adapts to Trump’s manner of conducting politics, and negotiating deals.

That said, here are my top 10 predictions for 2018:

  1. The BRICS will build on their success and continue on the same path that is strengthening their position globally, especially China, Russia, and India through different initiatives, projects, and associations (i.e., OBOR, SCO…).
  2. The UN will continue to weaken quietly as regional groupings (i.e., ASEAN, SCO…) take over. The rest of the world will gather around the regional powers, namely China, Russia… In the long run, the UN could suffer the same fate as the League of Nations.
  3. If Trump is not impeached, he will have a mediocre year, and the US prestige in the world will continue its downward spiral.
  4. The North Korean crisis will continue to ignite and will depend mostly on Trump, who may or may not trigger a war. Russia (although busy in Ukraine, another hotbed to monitor) and, especially, China will intervene to avoid a casus belli.
  5. The Syrian situation will calm down, and Russia will play an important role (as it will do in Libya). Reconstruction will be a highly topical issue.
  6. The Arab world will continue to be divided, and as usual, it will not do anything meaningful as illustrated by the saying ‘The Arabs have agreed that they disagree,’ which will leave the door open to Iran, that will continue strengthening its position in the region.
  7. Algeria is likely to become a new African Venezuela with energy prices still low; a situation that must be followed closely. The oil market will continue to be sluggish; prices will remain low while renewable energy will become more popular.
  8. Security issue in the Sahelo-Sudanese region will push the US to intervene more and more in the area.
  9. The waves of immigration to Europe will intensify, but they will be stopped by the EU that wants to contain them upstream, particularly in Morocco, Libya (when the country can be stabilized), Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, which will put added pressure on these countries, that already have their own domestic and transnational issues to deal with.
  10. The EU will continue to see the rise of populist movements everywhere. Brexit and its consequences, as well as centrifugal tendencies (i.e., Catalonia), will increase pressures on its unity, not to mention the various countries’ approaches to their refugee populations.

Fatima-Zohra Er-Rafia

Fatima-Zohra Er-Rafia is a lecturer at HEC Montréal and Polytechnique Montréal, a consultant, and an independent researcher. She holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a focus on China and Japan. Dr. Er-Rafia specializes in cross-cultural management, international affairs, strategy and organizational behavior. Her focus is on Weberian sociology, politics, economics, and history, and she uses aspects of all these disciplines to study Asia.

Dr. Er-Rafia previously served as a Corporate Strategist at Desjardins Group and as a Management Consultant, Director of Operations, and a Strategy and Business Development Consultant at Stratégies Internationales. She provides training for Business Executives at the international level and regularly gives presentations about Asia’s geopolitics, and its business, management, and culture. She is the recipient of several honors and awards and author of two book chapters on China and Japan, several articles and over twenty business case studies.

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