China’s state-run Global Times warned Russia in a Tuesday column not to trust that any agreeableness on President Donald Trump’s part will be a permanent change in U.S. policy, adding that Trump’s “America First” policy makes it impossible for Washington to have true international allies.
The Times‘ remarks follow Trump’s first in-person summit with President Vladimir Putin on Monday, which triggered a barrage of criticism from American mainstream media, Democrats in Congress, and others on the left who contended that Trump appeared too friendly to the Russian strongman.
At the summit, Trump promised the United States would compete to elbow Russia out of the global natural resources market, representing a threat to Russia’s already anemic economy.
Despite the Global Times and the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s, insistence that no threat exists to Communist Party dictator Xi Jinping from a closer relationship between America and Russia, the state newspaper’s column urged both China and Russia to “take note” that America’s government is run by “too many, too powerful forces” outside of the executive – unlike their countries, where all the nations’ major decisions are made by the heads of state.
The Times does not question Trump’s personal liking of Putin. “His attitude toward Putin has not changed even during the ongoing investigation into the Russiagate allegations,” the newspaper notes. “There seems to be no obstacles in his personal relationship with Putin,” it adds, before observing, “However, their personal friendship cannot turn into a positive asset of US-Russian ties. This has become a special case in major power relations.”
As Trump – and only Trump – appears to have this interest in thawing relations with Putin, the Global Times argues, Russian officials cannot operate under the assumption that Washington’s friendliness will last. “Current US foreign policy is not guaranteed to become a part of its long-term strategy. Policy changes in many aspects will likely be temporary,” the Chinese government newspaper predicts, adding:
When it comes to the US-Russian relationship, the US itself is divided. It is very difficult for non-Western countries to build good ties with Washington. There are simply too many, too powerful forces that are against it. It is important for Beijing and Moscow to take note.
That message – that the democratic nature of the United States makes it too chaotic to believe in anything any of its executives say – runs deeper than the point made by the article’s title, “‘America First’ Worsens U.S.-Russia Relations,” which implies that Trump is actively burning diplomatic bridges by advocating for the best interests of his country, and “the US-Russian relationship can hardly be significantly improved” because of Trump’s “hegemonic” ambitions.
It is a message China has been selling to the world since long before Trump, and one it can continue selling even if a left-leaning president reverses the trends of the Trump era–that working with free societies is risky for foreign countries and large corporations because the people can elect new and very different governments into office as they choose.
That is not to say the Global Times does not disparage Trump, as well. “Trump’s foreign policy is messy,” the newspaper notes. “He firmly believes in his own instincts while despising the fundamental rules of international relations. Moreover, he likes to take risks. His diplomacy is often populist.” And Chinese state media have not shied away from blaming Trump for the alleged “chaos” in the United States. Yet the larger message in the Global Times piece is that democratic societies cannot be trusted, one common to the pages of the newspaper.
Last month, the Global Times made the claim in a piece titled “Multi-Party System Misfit in Asian Nations,” suggesting that harmonious Asian cultures cannot withstand the cacophonous bickering inevitable in governments that give average people a voice in how they are governed.
“In some Asian countries and regions with the Western democratic models, leaders go to prison after transferring power. Is it because these countries have yet to assimilate Western multi-party democracy or the same system is dividing their politics?” the newspaper asks.
In January, state media began to refer to the country as the “Divided States of America,” suggesting the United States has no hope in competing with China because its democratic system makes its policies schizophrenic. China has similarly spent significant effort convincing developing countries to abandon electoral democracy, censor dissenting voices, and fostering a “harmony” that makes those countries more reliable partners in business for China. In one Xinhua column, for example, Chinese state media argued, “Unlike competitive, confrontational Western politics, the CPC and non-Communist parties cooperate with each other, working together for the advancement of socialism and striving to improve the people’s standard of living.”
“The relationship maintains political stability and social harmony and ensures efficient policy-making and implementation,” Xinhua claimed.
In addition to warning Russia to stay away from free competitive democracy, the Global Times article Tuesday adds to the impression, created by the same newspaper following the summit, that China does fear cooperation between Putin and Trump. While Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insisted on the contrary – “China welcomes the meeting between Putin and Trump – the leaders of powers greatly influencing the entire world” – the Global Times published a story arguing that the meeting is no cause for alarm to China because Russia and the United States do not have sufficient converging interests, particularly on containing China.
Russia has perhaps even more to be worried about with China’s growing world influence than the United States. One Belt, One Road (OBOR), the Chinese infrastructure plan that would hand Beijing control over most of the world’s major ports, roads, and railways, crosses straight through Central Asia, surrounding Russia. China’s growing control of the South China Sea and attempts to monopolize trade with the European Union could also box Russia out of its main trade market.
President Trump told reporters before his summit with Putin that they would discuss Russia, but reporters did not ask the pair what they discussed about Beijing, instead opting for questions about the 2016 presidential election.