In 2017, then-President Donald Trump visited China, meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the second time after Xi went to the United States earlier. After the visit, the U.S.–China trade war began, according to Creaders.

When Trump arrived in Beijing in November 2017, Xi welcomed him ceremoniously, organizing a banquet for Trump in the Forbidden City’s palace complex. It was a clear signal for strengthening ties with the U.S.  

So what happened that turned everything upside down?

According to HR McMaster, a former national security adviser under Trump, it was due to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s hubristic speech about China’s economy. He said that China would become an economic hegemon with the U.S.

Details of the meeting were recalled in McMaster’s latest book, titled “Battlegrounds: The Battle to Defend the Free World.”

According to the book, the Chinese premier delivered a lengthy speech during the last meeting of the U.S. delegation in the Great Hall of Beijing.  

Li declared that China already has an industrial and technological foundation and no longer needs the U.S. He further said that U.S. concerns about unfair trade and economic activities are meaningless. 

Li added that the role of the U.S. in the future global economy is to provide China with raw materials, agricultural products, energy, and cooperate with China in the production of high-tech industrial products and consumer goods. 

McMaster said that Trump patiently listened for a long time and finally interrupted Li’s speech. Then, after thanking him, he stood up and ended the meeting. 

According to McMaster’s book, Li’s monolog shows that Beijing no longer maintains its former leader Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “keeping modesty and never taking the lead” with Washington.

After the 2008 financial crisis slammed the economies of Europe and the United States, Chinese leaders became more confident in their own economic and financial models. As a result, they began to show off their national strength in the Indo-Pacific region and worldwide, actively hailing their economic model.

McMaster said that the U.S. and its allies had dramatically revised their China policy to counter China’s aggressive foreign and economic policies. During Trump’s visit, they initially thought they could persuade the Chinese officials to become responsible members of the international order ruled by law through positive exchanges instead of coercion, inducement, and cover-up. Rather, what Beijing declared has shocked their dreams. 

According to McMaster, before leaving Beijing, Trump spoke again about the Chinese regime’s unfair trade and economic practices during a press conference, then turned to Xi Jinping and said, “I don’t blame you, I blame myself.”  

Trump meant that the Chinese regime had destroyed democracy, free values, and the world’s free market, oppressed the Chinese people, and the U.S. and its allies have been wrong for sitting still and doing nothing. 

In recent years, the Chinese regime has repeatedly chanted “rising in the east and descending in the west,” referring to China’s rise as a new superpower while Western nations were losing their edge. 

In July 2021, a report by the U.S.–based Center for Strategic and International Studies indicated that since the 2008 financial crisis, Beijing confidently assessed that its national strength was growing. In contrast, the U.S.’s international influence was decreasing day by day.

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