Vekasi talks the Trump administration and China’s territorial disputes

On Feb. 23, Professor of Political Science, Kristin Vekasi, gave a talk on the Trump Administration and China’s Territorial Disputes.

This talk was a part of the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series (Controversy Series) Spring 2017 which is held each Thursday in the Bangor Room in the Memorial Union at the University of Maine. This series is sponsored by the Marxist and Socialist Studies Minor and co-sponsored by Maine Peace Action Committee and the Division of Student Affairs.

Vekasi is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Policy and International Affairs. “Her research interests focus on international political economy, and the dynamics of political conflict, foreign direct investment, and nationalism,” according to her biography on the Political Science department’s webpage.

“So what I’ll do in this talk is I’ll situate China within the politics of the Trump administration and how Trump is viewed, and how I see and interpret the Trump administration as uniting politics with China,” Vekasi began. “I’ll focus on the view from China and the big take away point that I want you to get is that in these disputes, China is really focused on matters of domestic politics, domestic ideological concerns, domestic stability concerns and the continued rule of the Chinese Communist party on the domestic level.”

Vekasi outlined three disputes, largely from the Chinese perspective. “We’ll be looking at this from where we might see it if you’re sitting in the seat of a Chinese elite member of the party,” Vekasi said. The three disputes she outlined are Taiwan, the South China Sea —  which is a dispute between China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines — and also the East China Sea, which is a dispute between Japan and China.

The United States is involved in all three of these disputes, either in some direct sense or peripherally through arms cooperation, military cooperation or some short of defense treaty obligations.

“The Trump administration is viewing these disputes in a very different, transactional way that has more to do with American economic interest. If we see a clash between those two things, the clash between those two fundamentally different domestic interests, it could lead to conflict between the two countries. That is not necessarily wanted by either and could be avoided but not if care is not taken,” Vekasi explained.

Vekasi also talked about how Trump supporters lean toward anti-free trade and how their view towards the trade situation with China is a part of that. “Bringing back the jobs from China is a compelling message, having fair trade with China, leveling the playing field, phrases like that are part of Trump’s economic message and that’s where China fits into the Trump administration’s political vision of the world,” she said.

Shortly after Trump won the 2016 election, there was a phone call arranged between him and the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen and he tweeted, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning Presidency. Thank you!”

Vakasi described this as a “stunning thing” for a new American president to do and that it seemed to undermine the basis of U.S./China diplomatic cooperation since the 1970’s. “It seemed that Donald Trump was saying, ‘We’re not going to go with it and we’re going to bring back jobs from China even if we have to use Taiwan as a negotiating tool,’” she explained. “This is undermining the very bilateral relationship between the United States and China.”

She ended with an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.

The next talk is on March 23 in the Bangor Room in the Memorial Union at the University of Maine. The topic is Africa Today: The Reveal Of Neo-Colonialism. James Warhola, Professor of Political Science and Dr. Ezra Chapola, “who was educated in Zimbabwe and completed his Ph.D. dissertation in Education at the University of Maine in 2016 on comparative educational policy in several contemporary African nations,” according to the event’s webpage, will be presenting.

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