From Jack Ma to Kim Jong Un, five areas where Donald Trump needs China


Since his election win, US President Donald Trump has put a bullseye on China.

From stealing US jobs to manipulating its currency to failing to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Trump’s accusations against China have come fast and furious. He’s broken with decades of diplomatic practice by questioning the One-China principle, which acknowledges Beijing’s claim to Taiwan.

China goes against Trump on free trade

As doubts grow over the United States’ coming role on the global stage, Chinese President Xi Jinping has chosen his moment to take to the stage at Davos.

But for all the hand-wringing, Trump needs China’s help to fulfil some of his campaign pledges. Here are five areas where he may find the carrot works better than the stick.


In one of the first policy briefs posted to the new White House website, Trump promised 25 million new jobs over the next decade.

While the plan contains few details, foreign investment can help. Trump recently heaped praise on Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, who suggested he could create as many as 1 million new jobs for US small and medium-sized business owners.

“For him to achieve his domestic aims around jobs and the economy, he’s going to have to figure out how to work with China,” said Paul Haenle, a China adviser to former president George W. Bush and now director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing.

North Korea

Trump’s tweets have made it clear he expects Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to stem neighbouring North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, has more leverage over Kim Jong Un’s regime than any other country.

Yet so far, Beijing’s leaders have indicated they fear a nuclear North Korea less than a collapse that would bring the US or its allies to their doorstep – concerns exacerbated by US plans for South Korea to host a missile defence system.


In his inaugural address, Trump promised to eliminate “radical Islamic terrorism” from the globe. That opens the door for cooperation with China, which has sought to quell an independence movement among Muslim Uighurs in its western region of Xinjiang.

China has close relations with Pakistan and Iran, potentially increasing the scope for sharing intelligence. Trump’s views on torture also make him less likely to slap China for human-rights abuses, a traditional sticking point for the US and China on anti-terrorism cooperation.


Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal one of the worst in US history. But if he wants to renegotiate or withdraw from it, he’ll likely need China’s help to bring Iran back to the table.

Getting Beijing, Iran’s biggest trading partner, to pressure Tehran the first time “took some difficult diplomacy,” said Haenle. If Trump withdraws from the deal, “it will be hard to get China to play the same role they played previously”.

Market access

Trump has sought to use China’s core interests like Taiwan as bargaining chips to negotiate a better trade deal.

While his administration has provided few details on what it wants in return, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross has called for China to reduce subsidies to state-owned enterprises and improve market access for US companies to the nation’s 1.3 billion consumers.

Any deal would only materialise, however, if Trump avoids linking it to interests like Taiwan.

“If Trump challenges the One-China policy there will be no deals at all,” said He Weiwen, a former commerce ministry official and senior fellow at the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation.

Right now, “he’s not asking for China’s cooperation – he’s just bashing China all the time.”