Paul Keating has praised what he sees as Trump’s “practical” approach of finding common ground with China rather than insisting on US global hegemony.
Skirting over news of US tariffs on steel imports, the former Labor prime minister said the US must adopt a balance of power strategy with China but with “partnership diplomacy”, or risk military conflict.
“Perhaps, strange but true, President Donald Trump is following that formula,” Mr Keating said during an address at the Wharton Global Forum on Friday.
“He’s saying let’s have a better relationship with China – we’ve got to keep them honest on steel and tariffs – but let’s have a better overall relationship with them.”
Mr Keating told the forum that China was seeking a new world order and would never accept one led by the US as in the past.
“The Chinese believe in globalisation but they do not believe in globalism … For an autocratic show, which they are, they actually want a democratisation of international relations.”
He warned ignoring this and seeking to frame or guarantee China as its economy and influence grew would risk military confrontation.
“Finding that balance between restraint, force and legitimacy and the ability to ensure the competition remains political and diplomatic is a great challenge for US and China.”
Trump ‘better policy’ than Clinton
But he argued President Trump may be shifting the US policy into this area after the failure of his three predecessors to take up opportunities to engage China.
He pointed to comments the president made this week in which he praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as “great” and “always treating me with respect and understanding”.
Mr Trump also spoke of the US “desire to live peacefully and in friendship” with China in a major foreign policy speech last April, where he said the two countries were “not bound to be adversaries” and “should seek common ground based on shared interests”.