Since the era of former US president Thomas Woodrow Wilson, value-oriented diplomacy has played a major role in US foreign policy. Donald Trump, current US President, entered the Oval Office from the business world without any political experience. He despises and has abandoned the country's liberal ideology as elites from both the US and other Western nations are left feeling deeply grieved.
When US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to employees of the State Department earlier this month, he said that although the country would keep advocating for, and aspiring to, greater freedom, human dignity, and the treatment of people the world over, the US cannot expect other nations to abide by these same values. He euphemistically yet clearly sent a message to the world - when promoting an America First agenda, value-oriented diplomacy will be put aside.
Both Trump and Tillerson believe in pragmatism and are averse to the old ruts and bookishness of political elites. Compared with the Democratic Party which favors topics such as human rights, the Republican Party attaches more importance on security.
Facing the disastrous consequences of 30 years of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, Trump, as well as the populist forces represented by him, no longer feel compelled to or capable of shouldering the moral responsibility of promoting democracy overseas. The national strength and influence of the US is in decline and many Americans find it increasingly hard to realize their American dream. Witnessing their own predicament and the catastrophic consequences that democratization has resulted in the Middle East and North Africa, many people no longer believe the myth of the "city upon a hill."
In a divided United States of America, Trump's attitude of ignoring US-style democracy, freedom and human rights has been attacked by congressmen, mainstream media and NGOs which are proud of and have been enthusiastically promoting these values. It is impossible for Trump to completely eliminate these values from policymaking, though the tendency of foreign policy under the Trump administration has begun taking shape.
When dealing with international affairs, Trump will make no secret of pursuing American interests. Under the guidance of the America First agenda and the law of the jungle, nationalism will emerge in the economic and military fields.
Trump is not a professional politician, yet the concept of his diplomacy is simple. He hopes to use strongman politics, mercantilism and trade protectionism, prioritizing development of the manufacturing and national defense industry to boost US comprehensive national strength while seeking peace through strength. In Trump's eyes, hard power is everything while soft power is merely showy and not a practical skill.
If nationalism and patriotism become mainstream US ideologies, the country will keep safeguarding its global hegemony in a more undisguised way. Its diplomacy will turn more hawkish and Washington will use the power of deterrence and coercion more frequently.
In the meantime, given that the US still attaches great importance to its armed forces as well as its alliance system, Trump's stance over US value-oriented diplomacy will not severely impact the current international order. After its major allies accept more defense responsibilities and more balanced trade ties, the US alliance system will remain stable. After abandoning long-standing prejudice toward certain authoritarian states and governments, US ties with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand will even improve.
Against this backdrop, Washington will also reduce its criticism over Chinese ideology, which could relieve the pressure of political infiltration and color revolution which China is facing. However, once the White House gives up its hope on democratizing China, it may seek a higher price from Beijing in terms of trade and security.
Nevertheless, if the US can genuinely put its ideological bias behind, there will be subtle but crucial changes in its perspective on Beijing. If Trump's government really means to define the Sino-US relationship for the next 50 years, learning to respect China's political system would be a critical first step.
（The author is associate research fellow at Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.）
打造国际关系学 国际政治学 外交学 区域国别研究学术公益平台