Dean Acheson’s Lesson to Donald Trump

Editor’s note: This version of Dean Acheson’s Lesson to Donald Trump is an adaptation from A lição de Dean Acheson a Donald Trump, originally published on this website. Based on the fact this is the first translation work of its author, I should warn you I’m aware of the possible existence of a few mistakes I could had commited here. I apologize for that.

The day is January 21, 1949. Cold War’s early phase. The World is under a constant and quick remaking on Post-World War II Era. The United States of America (USA) has as their leader the Democrat Harry Truman. In the middle of January of the same year, new State Secretary Dean Acheson takes the power. Acheson would be an important key on global reordering, because he was the one who created the modern sino-american relationship. In 1949, beyond the Acheson’s rise to the Secretary of State, a crucial matter under the International System (IS) is the China’s Popular Republic proclamation in October, confirming the victory of the communists under the nationalists on continental China.

In 2019, the sino-american relations are under pressure with the Trump Era (on this article, China refers to the People’s Republic of China). Since the electoral period, Trump criticized hardly the Eastern Superpower. When Donald Trump took the power in 2017 January, he also put the US-China relationship under an unpredictable shadow. With all the output of the Trump government, the world has realized that Donald Trump critics were not exclusive of his discourse. His verbal attitudes turned on actual practices of the International System (IS). The main result of his hostility to the Asian Dragon is the Trade War1. The United States and China are both the most important powers within the IS. These two fronts of this new kind of war do not only affect the Belligerent States, but have also lead to negative results for the international trade and GDP. In fact, the Commerce is the main driving force of world GDP (in other words, the trade grows at a higher rate than the world GDP). As a result of the Trade War, the Slowbalization(term used by Soumaya Keynes and Chad Bown) seems adequate to the current world.

In spite of the huge differences between the 50s and 2019, some lessons from Acheson looks like timeless. In 1950, he suggests:

Proposing to base relations with China on national interest, Acheson asserted that the integrity of China was an American national interest regardless of China’s domestic ideology

Acheson’s pragmatism to China didn’t happen by chance. The Eastern Country hadn’t one full year of foundation3 while  the Secretary of State already kept good relations with China. Even the US had supported the Chinese nationalists under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek during the civil war. Acheson described their strategies in battle as “the grossest incompetence ever experienced by any military command”. In other words, even during the Cold War, for Dean Acheson did not matter what is the political posture of the Chinese authorities. The pragmatism used by Dean Acheson in his writings about China domestic policies does not expose any affection about the communist ideology. On the contrary, his positions for Asia were made to keep the USA desires on the region.

However, the current USA president is not dealing with an unstable China. The Communist Party of China (CPC) is not a newcomer anymore. The CPC is leading the country since the Mao Zedong’s ascension in 1949 October. In reality, the present China the USA are dealing with now is much more a reemergent power4, and even a more stable player. The United States could not stand the same Cold War position that they did in 1950. It is not possible to rivalize with China as the USA did with Russia in a great part of the last century. The USA presidency analyzes today China within a mistakenly way, because they use the Trade War as a limitation tool of the Chinese economic power. Though, not as the Cold War rusian-american relationship, the sino-american relations are complementary. Between the 1950 and 1990 decades, the American economic sanctions to the URSS, or vice-versa, had no significant effects, because the commercial flow between the superpowers was pretty small. However, the recent USA economy is totally dependent, in supply and demand ways, of the Chinese economy, as so as the inverse is true.

Therefore, Based on the superpowers economic complementarity, it is contraproductive for the USA achieve its goals affecting the Chinese economy. Data from The Observatory of Economic Complexity confirm the strong ties within the sino-american relationship: China is the main trade import  from USA goods. China receives more than 10% of the total USA exports. 21% of american imports are coming from China. The United States and People’s Republic of China are both nations with complementary economies, not rival ones (generally speaking). So, the Acheson’s pragmatism is useful for current relations. What’s the deal in a rivalry with China, whether the result is a world economy slowdown, and, therefore, a slowdown of the own US economy? The Acheson’s pragmatism ishere not to support the chinese communism, but to increase the USA economy. The chinese increase of domestic buying power, as so as the chinese market expansion, must be seen as a great opportunity to USA government and transnational companies, and not as a threat to their sovereignty and even their existence.


  1. In spite of the article assumed the Trade War existence, there are authors whom does not agree with this term. As an example: FELDSTEIN, Martin. There is no Sino-American Trade War.
  2. The used term is not originally from Keynes and Bown. However, both contextualize this new term in their 69 podcast Trade Talks.
  3. The Communist China, or People’s Republic of China, were founded in October 1949.
  4. The reemergent term is not an unanimity among internationalists authors. Many use the “emergent” term to describe the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). However, when it comes to Russia, and mainly China, it would be more adequated “emergent”, because during the last 20 centuries in the world, the Chinese GDP were the greatest for 18 times.



OEC. United States. Disponible at: <;.  Accessed on: February 1, 2019.

TRADE TALKS. 69: Slowbalization. Podcast, 2019.

KISSINGER, Henry. Triangular Diplomacy and the Korean War. In: On China. Pages: 128-131.

Illustration source: Andrew Rae, in Brook Larmer article in New York Times. When it comes to a Trade War, China takes the long view. Disponible at:<;. Accessed on: February 1, 2019.


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