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A View from the Top: A look at Trumps Post Inauguration China Team

As the Inauguration of the 45th President draws within striking distance the eyes of America and the world will be waiting with baited breath to see how Mr. Trump will tackle his new role. It is still uncertain as to if promises made on the campaign trail will congeal from the realm rhetoric into existence.  Much like the chants of “Lock her Up”, which have seemed to fade to the back of the political echo chamber, we may never see the wall nor a thirty-five percent import tariff on German cars come into fruition. At this point there is no utility in speculation. Instead, we here at USCHPM find it beneficial to focus on those peoples who will guide and shape U.S China Policy after January 20th and their documented statements. We hope you find this information useful and informative.

Peter Navarro

Position: National Trade Council (Appointment)

Credentials: MA in Public Administration and PhD in Economics from Harvard University.

Primary concerns: “Death by China”


“The American economy will suffer severely.  This is because the TPP will hammer two main drivers of economic growth – domestic investment and “net exports.”(source)

Talking on the Nine Dashed Line

“This would not just transfer to China untold natural resource wealth from countries like Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. It would also effectively run the U.S. navy out of the Asia-Pacific.” (source)

Stance on China: Critical

On Trade:

“China has been the biggest cheater in the WTO, as measured by all the complaints that we see filed against them and measured by all the other avenues—illegal export subsidies, intellectual property theft, currency manipulation.” (source)

        On South China Sea:

“Is China gonna be an aggressive bully in the region and provoke some type of military confrontation, or is China going to be a good citizen member of the international global order and enjoy all the benefits of that in terms of trade and peace? And it’s really up to China.” (source)

Chinese Perception: Apprehensive

Trump has threatened a trade war on China and Navarro is the man who could make it happen:

“There is the very real risk of a trade war with China. Candidate Trump was vocal and provocative in his China bashing. As President-elect he has upped the ante – not only threatening tariffs and charges of currency manipulation but also injecting Taiwan relations and the One-China policy into the uncertainly calculus” (source)

Rex Tillerson

Position: Secretary of State (Nominee)

Credentials: CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016, BA in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Primary Concerns: “Safeguarding National Security.” (source)

At the 2012 Council on Foreign Relations CEO speaker series Tillerson outlined how energy dependence and access to resources falls within the realm of national security. When asked about possible alternatives to Middle Eastern oil in the South China Sea Tillerson responded:  

“It changes our economic interdependencies with that region because that is really the source of our economic interdependencies, is our energy dependency” (source)

Stance on China:

        On North Korea:

“We cannot continue to accept empty promises like the ones China made to pressure North Korea to Reform only to shy away from enforcement.” (source)

On South China Sea:

“China’s island building in the south China Sea is and illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms” (source)

Chinese Perception:

“Tillerson’s statements regarding the islands in the South China Sea are far from professional. If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash” (source)

Gov. Terry Branstad

Position: Ambassador to China (Appointee)

Credentials: Iowa House of Representatives for (1973-1979), Lieutenant Governor of Iowa (1979-1984), Governor of Iowa (1984-2017).

Primary goal: Make Iowa Great “Again”

“But you know my focus has always been here on Iowa and I want to serve the people of Iowa.” (source)

Stance on China: Cooperative

On the TPP:

“Maybe it can be renegotiated and China could be included,” says Branstad. “That’s something I think should be looked at. Or the other thing to do would be bilateral agreements, like we’ve done with South Korea.”

On Relationship with President Xi:

Branstad and Xi have had a long friendly relationship since the 1980’s when the current President of China came and stayed in Iowa on an agricultural research trip. Since then Branstad has visited China numerous times, and has remained in close contact with Xi. Upon learning of his ambassadorship he is quoted as saying: 

“I am excited to catch up with our old friend.” (source)

Chinese Perception: Optimistic

“His expertise on China and friendship with Chinese and U.S. leaders are expected to facilitate him in lubricating the development of the most important bilateral relationship in the world.” (source)

General James Mattis

Position: Secretary of Defense (Nominee)

Credentials: 11th Commander of United States Central Command, the Unified Combatant Command (2010-2013), United States Joint Forces Command (2007-2010), NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009)

Primary concerns: America’s Geopolitical Position  

“America’s foreign policy objective should be to reassert an order conducive to our security and that of our allies.” (source)

During confirmation hearing on date: January 12, 2017

Q: Do you believe that the world order is now under more strain than its ever been?

A: I think it’s under the biggest attack since World War Two, Sir, and that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups, and with what China is doing in the South China Sea. (source)

Stance on China: Weary

“Even long-term friends of our country are hedging their bets, questioning the reliability of our partnership.” (source)

 Chinese perception: Limited

While statements regarding other trump nominations and appointments are readily available via Chinese state media outlets for Mattis they are nonexistent. This careful approach by the CCP leadership is reflective of their recognition of his Military background and future position.

Daniel Grober is one of the Spring 2017 interns at the Carter Center’s China Program. You can follow him on Twitter @Daniel_Grober.