Theresa May needs to be tough with Trump, and be ready to grasp a historic opportunity for Britain.
Just days into his presidency, Donald Trump is already making his mark on the world. In his first week he has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, frozen federal hiring and is coming good on his promise to build a wall on the Mexico border. And this is only the beginning of "four years of ostentatious brutality".
On Friday, he has his first meeting with a foreign leader in British Prime Minister Theresa May. Whilst Trump's protectionist policies mean that he is very much "America first" and focused on creating new jobs and improving living standards for the millions who voted for him, he also believes that revamping and restructuring the US's global economic relationships will be the quickest way to achieve this. The UK needs to be poised to benefit.
The next four years under Trump are going to be all about the economy. The weapons in the new US president's arsenal are not tanks and bombs, but trade sanctions, economic tariffs and market access. And all the evidence indicates that the big guns will be pointing at China - the country Trump blames for taking American jobs and undermining the US economy. He will also want to bring Taiwan out of isolation and put pressure on China, stating that its pride and joy - the creation of man-made islands - is unlawful at the very least.
China will not compromise its interests easily, though. Its economic might is formidable; this is hardly Mexico, which is deeply dependent on the US economy. So, in order to achieve his aims, Trump would have to start by weakening China politically by using the old authoritarian strategy of 'divide and conquer'. This means splitting the Middle Kingdom from its major international ally - Russia.
US Recognition of the Crimea annexation, finance, technologies, even letting Putin's Russia loose to pursue its ambitions in Ukraine, the Baltics, and perhaps Moldova are all on the cards. The price for Putin? Betraying the alliance with China, the one country that has supported Russia through the pain of sanctions.
All this could have very real implications for the UK.
Of course, Mrs May will want to avoid getting sucked into a vortex of trade warfare, but before Trump's election British officials were talking up a "golden age" for Anglo-Chinese relations. The legacy of the former chancellor, who welcomed Chinese investment with open arms, has left us with numerous business and investment projects on the cards, including the recently re-approved Hinckley Point.
President Trump is an "all or nothing" kind of man, and may well expect Britain to choose between an alliance with China and its special relationship with the US. This presents a myriad of challenges for a country wishing to increase trading outside of the EU, and the handling of this issue is one of the most important foreign policy and economic challenges today. As Theresa May prepares to meet Trump, who is a tough, rough and cynical negotiator, she must be practical in response and not give in easily.
The UK will be an important ally to the US, and we are therefore negotiating from a position of strength. Mrs May therefore needs to impress on Trump that if he wants UK support against China, such support could prove very costly for Britain indeed. It will need to involve "compensation" for lost Chinese investment, for the costs of Brexit, and for the post-Brexit special trade agreement with China. Such an agreement would be far more beneficial to us than Trump's cryptic promises that his friendship with Putin would "enrich and transform the world". It is hard to see just how indulging the Russian aggressor whilst entering into conflict with the fairly peace-loving China, which is a driver of the global economy on top everything else, could ever make our world better.
After all, the UK was banking on greater collaboration with China in its post-Brexit planning to rebalance any losses in European trade. If the US wants us to turn our back on that and abandon lucrative investment deals, it must compensate us properly.
If, however, Trump is willing to soften his aggressive stance towards China, there could be another, more prudent course. Britain could position itself as a bridge between the US and China, providing a channel for the two superpowers to have a more constructive and cordial dialogue. With this role as a global intermediary, Britain can reap dividends from the two largest economies in the world.
If we are to capitalise on this opportunity, however, Theresa May must be robust with Donald Trump when they meet this Friday. It is paramount that we state our position clearly from the outset and stick to it. At Trump's negotiating table, we must pitch business acumen against business acumen, and involve business representatives as well as politicians to bring real-world expertise to the discussions. In this way, we can protect our interests and drive forward our vision with Trump as the special relationship continues to grow.
The Trump presidency offers a chance for Britain to reposition itself as a truly global power, with real political and economic ambitions, and boasting interests around the world again. It is an opportunity we must be ready to grasp.Suggest a correction