University of Maine history professor Ngo Vinh Long gave the latest lecture in the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series on Thursday, titled “Trump and Xi Jinping: Implications for East Asia.” Long has been a part of the UMaine history department since 1985, after receiving his Ph.D. in East Asian History and Far Eastern Languages from Harvard in 1978. The Socialist and Marxist Studies Series has been running each semester at UMaine since 1988.
Long opened the lecture by addressing the similarities between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, highlighting the fact that both are on a mission to return their country to greatness. Because the leaders are so alike, their objectives clash, causing friction between the two countries. Like Trump, Xi prioritizes a strong military but gives no concrete details on how that goal will be reached.
In November 2016, Trump visited Beijing as part of his Asian tour and called trade with China “shockingly unbalanced,” saying that China was taking advantage of Americans. He also called China the “enemy country” throughout his campaign and assured retaliation if he was elected. However, since his election, Trump has commented on the strong character of Xi, contradicting his campaign promises.
The current controversy, according to Long, lies in the South China Sea, where China has territories and the United States has allies. Xi believes that China has indisputable sovereignty over the region. China is currently pursuing the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which would give China access to land and water routes throughout Asia and expand China’s power.
Beijing-based New York Times reporter Ian Johnson wrote in October that “China has begun pulling small countries in its periphery into its orbit,” which directly conflicts with U.S. interests. Xi intends to weaken the United States’ South China Sea allies, including Japan, in order to push the United States out.
According to Long, Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) ended hopes of a deal with China. Membership in the TPP increases trust between those involved, and the United States’ exit may damage relations with American allies, giving China an upper hand.
Long said that whichever nation controls the South China Sea has “great manipulation power,” because it serves a gateway to the entire Western Pacific. He also emphasized that neither country is used to operating on someone else’s terms, which heightens tensions and makes the conflict greater.