The 2016 U.S. presidential election and victory of now President Trump showed that domestic drivers have posed the main problems for the United States in Asia. There are few obvious opportunities for the United States in this new situation. The regional challenges facing America are the immediate threat of nuclear North Korea and various longer term challenges posed by rising China. U.S. domestic politics and divisions led to changes under President Trump creating more tensions in relations with Asia; they made coherent and effective U.S. policy difficult. Whether or not rising China is able and willing to fill the perceived leadership gap in Asia as American government attention is seen as episodic and often focused elsewhere remains to be seen.
This chapter examines the context of Sino–US relations since the Cold War to offer an assessment on whether or not the impact of President Xi Jinping is leading to a widely anticipated power shift where rising China is superseding declining United States in intensifying rivalry for influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Xi’s often bold and highly publicized foreign policies are more assertive and harder for the United States to deal with, but substantial constraints dissuade the Xi government from confronting the United States. The constraints include serious domestic Chinese problems, strong and growing US–Chinese interdependence, and power realities in Asia that illustrate China’s surprisingly mediocre record in expanding influence in this critically important region where the United States registers stronger not declining influence. Assertiveness and periodic bluster of Xi’s foreign policy probably will continue, but they are seen as married with pragmatic management of serious disputes, thereby reducing the likelihood of confrontation that is not in the interests of either power.