The dire forebodings that the world is on the edge of extinction or that war is inevitable with Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the most powerful nation are all wishful dark thoughts and nightmarish dreams. World War III is not going to happen.
The new US president may be a braggart and a liar. He may be deceptive, vindictive and outlandish—but he is not stupid. He must be sharp, smooth and gregarious for having made himself rich. Adorable to beautiful women, too.
What will restrain Trump from pushing the red button, which will release the nuclear arsenal of the United States, is not fear of retaliation from another powerful nation but the vigilance of Congress and the preponderant majority of American people.
No matter how cavalierly he dismisses the rousing demonstration of over 4 million people the day following his assumption of office, he knows that he cannot ignore the sentiments—the wrath—of the American public. Mr. Trump knows that no matter how he bluntly and haughtily denies it, he did not receive the popular mandate. A guilty conscience is a strong deterrent.
The US Congress will not declare war unless an invasion or attack of the United States takes place.
Trump’s threats against China and his disdain for the one-China policy are all sound and rhetoric, no fury. He may test the patience of Xi Jinping but he will not arouse his anger or condemnation. If his moves reach the point of brinkmanship, the US Congress and the American public will call him down. If he persists and puts his country in real danger of being engaged in war, the American citizenry will rise to demand his resignation.
The other man to watch in the geopolitical scene is the head of state of China, Xi Jinping, Trump’s favorite target.
Xi is reticent, sphinx-like, reserved, and always proper in public. But beneath his granite persona and measured warmth lies a calculating genius.
Xi is today the most powerful head of state, the president of the second most powerful nation on earth.
No paramount leader of China has ever gained control of power in both the party and the government in so short a time and almost seamless manner than Xi Jinping. From the time he became a governor of Fujian province to the time he became a member of the Politburo, Xi steadily and forcefully inched himself up to all the most powerful centers of authority. He made his presence known starting from the 3rd plenum in 2013.
Xi is determined to pursue reforms and to solidify his hold on power. In the coming plenum in November this year, he will put his most trusted allies in the Politburo and in the most sensitive agencies of the government. His keen awareness of possible threats or dangers to his leadership is evident in his being the head of both the intelligence and military apparatus of the party and the government.
The other man to watch is Vladimir Putin, the enigmatic Russian leader. Since it seems that Trump and Putin are secret friends, the likelihood of Russia teaming with China against the United States, seems unlikely at the moment.
What is interesting in this three-party equation is that Putin could now be a referee or a conciliator whenever Xi and Trump are at each other’s throat. Since Xi and Putin remain respectful and friendly with each other, there are very good chances that the three could work together.
Xi is a wise and sure-footed leader. He will not risk his country’s future and his own leadership by being belligerent or provocative. China is not prepared to go to war. The awesome firepower of the United States is too dreadful and harrowing.
It is in the economic sphere where China can outpace the United States and overshadow even the European Union. This is where Xi is concentrating. Interestingly, perhaps unknowingly, Trump is helping Xi attain his objective. By his isolationist moves, the US will be losing allies in centers of international trade, finance and banking. China has been aggressive in its economic pivot into even the most depressed nations in Africa. Her early investments and new commitments to the Philippines are already outstanding and remarkable.
It now appears that President Duterte’s pivot to China is not only prescient but timely.
Let us hope that DU30s dalliance with China will not be at the expense of our democratic institutions.
Ernesto Banawis is formerly general manager of the Philippine New Agency.