President Donald Trump last night launched a diplomatic offensive of his own, imposing sanctions on China. Specifically, they’re meant to punish Beijing for its “failing to live up to the spirit” of a previous joint press conference between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.
He then followed up with an emotional appeal to Russia, the world’s second-largest economy, for help in solving the conflict in the Middle East, which has been worsening since President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin gas on civilians in April. And he reiterated his threat to impose economic sanctions on the Islamic republic for its provocative actions.
Mr. Trump also sought to sideline China and other ally countries from the Lima Group, an anti-North Korea coalition which tends to be led by its North Asian members. The Lima Group meeting is scheduled for this week.
Why is this happening?
No one really knows. Mr. Trump has told aides that he wants to leave the foreign world reeling from his string of abrupt foreign policy decisions. And for the most part, he’s doing it.
However, that doesn’t mean he’s getting everything he wants. While the international community was taking notice of Washington’s abrupt turn, observers say that the Canadian government is largely taking a wait-and-see approach on the substance of U.S. actions, including potential economic measures against China.
The reason may be political. Earlier this year, Mr. Trudeau cancelled a visit to Washington following Mr. Trump’s remarks at a rally of Iowa Republicans about “shithole countries.” And now that Ottawa is looking at potential sanctions against China, it is unlikely Mr. Trump would want to burn any bridges at this juncture.
The fact that Ottawa wasn’t surprised is evident in the fact that Canada is not announcing a reciprocal boycott of Chinese products. “The prime minister and his officials have carefully studied Trump’s latest threat and believed it was premature to announce a reciprocal step that would inflame tensions and raise questions about the administration’s credibility,” said David MacNaughton, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States.
What’s Ottawa waiting for?
“There have been some signs over the last few days that the Trudeau government is sitting this one out,” a source close to the discussion told The New York Times.
For example, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gave a speech on Sept. 6 in which she emphasized Canada’s positive relationship with China, but she refused to go into specifics. And it remains to be seen if there are any penalties waiting for them.