Change for better hoped for trade talks

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Nov 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet their Chinese peers, politburo member Yang Jeichi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, in Washington tomorrow.

This will be the two countries' first high-level dialogue following the US mid-term elections. Will it produce further signals pointing to a sustained thaw in ties between the two largest economies, currently engaged in a trade war, ahead of a Sino-US summit in Argentina at the end of this month?

That's open to speculation. But the conclusion of the American mid-term elections will at least help restore a normal environment for business.

US President Donald Trump had started the trade war with a view to drumming up anti-Chinese hostilities at home to cement support for the mid-terms. If successful, he would have led the Republicans to reduce the opposition to triviality.

Trump didn't get what he wanted, even though he declared Tuesday to be a successful night. The Republicans strengthened their grip on the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.

Ahead of Trump is a split Congress. While he may rely on his party's Senate majority to deepen conservatism in the federal judiciary - from the district to supreme courts - he must work with the Democrats on legislative matters.

After all, the Grand Old Party's Senate gains were far off the 60-seat mark needed to strip the Democrats of the ability to filibuster.

Nancy Pelosi, minority-turned-majority-leader in the House, branded Tuesday a successful night too. If all she wanted was control of the House and restoration of checks and balances on the executive, it was mission accomplished by the Democrats.

However, if she had wanted a blue wave, or even tsunami, to sweep across the country, the Democrats couldn't have been more disappointed, as their House gains were modest.

What's been clear so far is that the country is as divided as ever. That's hardly surprising, as Trump has never honored the pledge he made in his 2016 victory speech to heal the wounds and bring Americans together.

Instead, he's been most successful at polarizing his people with his notoriously inflammatory speeches for the past two years.

The mid-term results confirmed the deep divide. Trump should be impressed by the Republican voters' loyalty. If angry voters had turned out in force to cast a de facto vote of no confidence in him, his diehard supporters showed up in large numbers to protect him in equal measure.

The mid-term elections resulted in a gridlock in Congress, just as much as America at large.

Pelosi called for bipartisan politics, which Trump quickly echoed in a tweet. It was in the commander-in-chief's best interest to do so as he would need cooperation from the Democrats to proceed with his agenda for the next two years - particularly if he wants to show voters he's worth trusting for a second term in 2020.

Who knows if the two parties can work together? If they do, there would be less rhetoric and more substance, and the divide among Americans may narrow.

While the mid-term results weren't a game changer, their impact should never be underestimated.

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