US President Donald Trump’s first visit to Beijing was an exhibition of mutual flattery. China rolled out the red carpet for what it termed a 'state visit plus', replete with unprecedented pomp and circumstance for an American leader.
Trump returned the favour with incessant fawning over Chinese President Xi Jinping, supplemented by extravagant admiration for China. 'Nothing you can see is so beautiful', he said of a full-dress Chinese military parade he witnessed in Beijing.
The mood contrasted sharply with Trump’s heated campaign rhetoric (recall his declaration 'We can't continue to allow China to rape our country'), eliciting a flood of analyses in the Western press that he had reversed course toward a softer approach to Beijing. China’s state-run media was all too happy to reinforce this message, billingthe summit as locking in a positive path for the US-China relationship.
Don’t count on it. Happy veneer aside, three factors at home are likely to drive the US toward a harder line on China in the months and years ahead. Call it the 'Three Ps'.
Read the full commentary in The Interpreter.