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Anja Manuel shares views on Trump, administration's impact on US foreign policy

On March 23, SCPKU hosted a lecture and discussion on “President Trump: The Future of US Foreign Policy and America’s Role in the World” featuring Anja Manuel, co-founder and partner of the US-based international consulting firm RiceHadleyGates LLC, lecturer in Stanford’s International Policy Studies Program, and author.  The lively session was moderated by Wang Dong, Peking University Professor in the School of International Studies and Director of the Center for Northeast Asian Strategic Studies.  The event drew an audience of over 100 people representing the Chinese academic community, think tanks, the business and government sectors, and the Stanford alumni community.  

Manuel opened her talk by outlining a number of factors contributing to Trump’s flip-flopping on many foreign policy issues and the unprecedented turnover within his administration during his first year in office.  She asserted that Trump, a business leader and pragmatist, is the first US President not solidly wedded to the post-World War II international order that the US worked to create and uphold.  Furthermore, while he has men on his side providing sound and independent advice, he also has people in his inner circle working against each other.  “Even when things are moving really smoothly, it’s very difficult to have an effective White House policy,” she observed. “So this constant infighting makes it even tougher.” 

Manuel also commented on some of the key trends and challenges facing Trump’s administration including instability in the Middle East, Russia’s aggressive policies, the rise of superpowers China and India, and increased nativism in the US and Europe. She highlighted Russian President Putin’s strategy of sowing seeds of instability in the West to offset weakness at home including the rise of oil prices and decreasing life expectancy.  China and India, she also observed, have already had a profound impact on the world.  Within 12 years, these two countries will house 40% of the world’s middle class compared to the U.S. and Europe who, together, will have only 20%.  “No matter what our president says,” she argued, “in order to prosper, we have to do business together.” At the same time, she encouraged the two countries to step up and take more responsibility for the global order.  Manuel cited China’s leadership role in the United Nations’ humanitarian aid efforts as a prime example. She also touched on the United States’ and Europe’s moves to extreme protectionism because of pressure from core constituencies left behind after a decade of open borders and increased globalization and trade.  The US and Europe, Manuel asserted, need to renew their own systems to reverse what she hopes is a temporary “defensive crouch.”

Finally, Manuel dived deeper into U.S.-China relations, a key focus for her during the last decade.  She sees growing frustrations on both sides and increased finger pointing on sensitive issues including unemployment, trade imbalances, fair market access, and theft of cyber secrets.  “Even American constituents most positive toward US-China relations feel a bit taken advantage of, and these issues are well within the Chinese government’s power to get right,” she argued. In closing, Manuel expressed optimism that the US and China can find a new way to get along and recognize mutual benefits in doing so.  “It makes sense for both great powers to work together on our biggest issues including trade, climate change, and terrorism; don’t let a temporary blip in populism get in the way,” she challenged.

Anja Manuel and Wang Dong field questions from the audience after Manuel's lecture, March 23, 2018.
Photo credit:  Stanford University