SINGAPORE (July 29): Of all the changes in US foreign policy that President Donald Trump’s administration has made, the most consequential is the adoption of a confrontational stance towards China. Replacing a decades-old policy of engagement, Trump’s approach has not only resulted in an economic cold war between the world’s two largest economies, but it has also raised the spectre of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Within the first year of his presidency, Trump labelled China a strategic “competitor” and “rival power”. But it is not just Trump: For the US national security establishment and leading Republican members of Congress — as well as some Democrats — China represents the most serious long-term threat to the US’ global preeminence and vital interests.

Geopolitics has been the primary cause of the rapid deterioration of US-China relations over the last two years, and Trump’s trade war must be viewed in this context. US tariffs may be focused on undermining China’s long-term economic potential, but the underlying motivation is to weaken China as a strategic rival.

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