Relations between the United States and China now appear dangerously perched on a platform with just one leg: competition. The other leg, cooperation, which had underpinned their engagement since 1972, has been damaged by President Donald Trump's mistrust of China. This was made crystal clear by his administration last week. In a speech at a Washington think-tank, US Vice-President Mike Pence bluntly accused Beijing of breach of faith, violation of sovereignty, theft and intimidation in its pursuit of national objectives and international influence. He also claimed that concerns about Chinese actions, and an appreciation for the Trump administration's reset of its relations with China to put "America First", were shared across the country and around the world.
The wedge may be driven deeper still if Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin determines next week that China is manipulating the yuan to create an unfair price advantage in the months-long trade war between the two sides. Tensions have been stoked by concerted policies spelt out in legislation and in Pentagon documents. These pinpoint China as a threat to American power and subject Chinese investments to unprecedented scrutiny. In fact, the US insisted on a clause in the incoming Nafta replacement deal to discourage partner nations from striking trade agreements with "non-market" economies such as China.