President Trump, last Tuesday held a Rose Garden press conference ostensibly about China and Hong Kong. But instead it descended into a first-rate farce, as he attacked Joe Biden for everything imaginable and talked little about China and even less about a pandemic that is raging currently having claimed over 140,000 American lives.
Trump has rhetorically made China a key issue in the 2020 Presidential Election. His advisors think railing on China in the wake of the Coronavirus, which every other major industrialized nation has handled more efficiently and in a timely manner than the United States will get the President off the hook for Herbert Hoover-like mismanagement by denial of a crisis.
This is classic projection because no US Administration since the opening of dialogue with the People’s Republic of China in 1972 has done more enable the Chinese than Trump’s.
Joe Biden, one of the most qualified nominees a major party has every produced in terms of foreign affairs background should be easily able to differentiate his China policy with Trump’s.
As we’ve so often seen among MAGA adherents the world they live in is often an alternate reality. Trump lobs bombs at the Chinese yet privately caves to Premier Xi and has made one move after another that has enhanced China’s geopolitical strength while weakening the United States.
Trump’s posture toward China is duplicitous. Rhetorically he lobs bombs at them, but privately he caves to Chinese Communist Premier Xi. Trump’s actions in retreating from American leadership of liberal democracies including withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and now the World Health Organization (WHO) has empowered China in a way unimaginable even five years ago. Trump’s missteps in global diplomacy have led those in the developing world to look more and more to China for leadership and assistance over the course of the last three years.
Here is a partial list of Trump’s actions or non-actions that have helped the Chinese:
1- Withdrawal from the TPP. Those on the left and the right who opposed the TPP failed to understand its strategic importance.
2- Inability to mediate South Korea/Japan dispute…this fell to China.
3- No involvement or comments about Chinese provocations in 2017 on border with Bhutan.
4- When VP Mike Pence condemned Chinese treatment of the Muslim Uighers, Trump’s administration never followed up and the President himself has repeatedly demonstrated no interest in this matter publicly. However, John Bolton claims privately Trump expressed admiration for Chinese concentration camps in the region.
5- This administration contemplated cutting US assistance to the Tibetan Government-in-exile, before caving months later.
6- The US’ withdrawal from giving aid or engaging in Africa has left the door wide open for Chinese exploitation.
7- Abandoned by the US’ commitment to the western alliance under President Trump, France and particularly have engaged China with more force and intent recently, creating a hedge against the United States and breaking western unity on China.
8- Australia feeling abandoned by the US’ TPP withdrawal and vulnerable to Chinese economic pressure is trying to create new partnerships and alliances.
9- Trump’s unsolicited wading into the dispute between China and India via Twitter over Ladakh resulted in a border skirmish where at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
10- The US’ rhetoric on Hong Kong has been both inconsistent and backed up with ZERO action.
11- North Korea. Trump’s bromance with Kim has served Chinese interests more than American or South Korean ones.
Chinese soft power has grown under Trump while American soft power is rapidly disintegrating. That’s one part of what is at stake in November and why Joe Biden MUST get elected to restore the global order.
Many on the left have become similarly dismissive of free trade as MAGA Trump supporters on the right. It’s no small wonder then why those who value American global leadership are far more comfortable with Joe Biden than with Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. While Sanders domestic policies would help the American people, his foreign policy would have been a disaster in a dangerous world increasingly dominated by Chinese aggression.
Trump’s abandonment of the TPP opened the door for China to exploit the Pacific Rim region. TPP was largely designed largely to bottle up China and secure a bi-polar power arrangement in the Pacific rim. It was as much a security arrangement as it was a trade agreement. But by unilaterally withdrawing from TPP, Trump handed the region over to China and left our longtime allies like Australia and South Korea at the mercy of the Chinese.
Trump never really understood the value of the TPP as he articulated incorrect information about it in the Republican primaries and never stopped until he was in the White House. Similarly, Hillary Clinton was too willing to buckle to pressure from organized labor to stand tall on a logical Obama Administration policy.
On North Korea, Trump was tested early in his administration with the Chinese doing little to rein in a nation wholly dependent on Beijing for its survival. Like previous administrations, Trump’s is at the mercy of the Chinese to deal with North Korea and has perhaps soft-peddled China on a number of items on the above list because of North Korea.
The general policy drift of this administration is to eschew multilateral diplomacy in favor of tough rhetorical talk and an unhealthy combination of unilateralism and protectionism. The key beneficiary of this American disengagement from leadership and problem solving is without question the Chinese.
Trump correctly identified China in his campaign as the greatest threat to American economic security. But now Beijing is rapidly enhancing its global financial hegemony thanks to Trump’s nearly four years of inept, inconsistent and impulsive leadership. For all of Trump’s seeming deference to the likes of Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan, his biggest foreign policy flaw is likely his complete inability to do what is needed to curb Chinese aggression.
The result of Trump’s mishandling of China is a weaker US where our interests and that of liberal values are under global attack.
Joe Biden will do better – heck he could hardly do much worse.