Trump’s Showdown with China
China is already trying to test Trump, but is it Trump who will test China?
By Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
China has hacked some of our most vital defense secrets. Its secret police operate in our cities. Its propaganda outlets threaten war while it plots to build an empire at our expense.
The viral photo of Obama bowing to China’s Hu Jintao is how most Americans remember the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. But behind the ‘bow seen around the world’ were months of appeasement.
While it’s fashionable in the media to mock Trump’s threat to label China a currency manipulator, Obama had accused China of currency manipulation when he first ran for the White House.
“I will use all diplomatic means at my disposal,” he had vowed. Like the rest of his diplomatic threats, this too swiftly devolved into a silly farce.
Obama tried to bluff China by dragging out the verdict on whether it was a currency manipulator. To no one’s surprise, the People’s Republic didn’t blink, the People’s Republic of Hope and Change did.
China suspended a number of contacts and sharpened its rhetoric. As winter gave way to spring, Obama dispatched emissaries pleading with China to come back. The bow was only his final humiliation.
By the next election, Romney, like Trump, had pledged to label China a currency manipulation on his first day in office. At the debate, Obama ducked the issue, blurted out mean-spirited smears at Romney and then insisted that “currencies are at their most advantageous point for U.S. exporters since 1993.”
In 1994, the US had last labeled China as a currency manipulator. This year China had nearly slid off the watch list entirely.
Despite his claims of diplomatic acumen, Obama had a special gift for mixing threats and appeasement papered over with doubletalk in a way that humiliated him and the entire country. But our foreign policy toward China had rested for a long time on a nervous fear of doing anything to offend it.
Trump put aside fear of offending China by making it clear that the One China policy would be conditional on concessions from the Communist regime on trade and North Korea.
The panicked reaction to this statement and his chat with the President of Taiwan is typical of the establishment’s nervous take on China. It’s why Obama had made the Dalai Lama leave the White House through the back door past a pile of trash. (China was still offended.)
Our foreign policy toward China is one of fear. We save face with empty bluffs, like Obama’s currency report delay or the innocent passage in the South China Sea, that don’t fool the PRC in the least. The Communist regime learned long ago that we were too afraid of a trade or military war to stand up to it.
Trump’s phone call occasioned more outrage from our own media than the sock puppets of the PRC. For the first time in generations there is an American president who won’t follow the same predictable patterns as Obama’s bow or Bush’s apology after the Hainan Island Incident when PRC thugs captured one of our planes, took its crew prisoner, interrogated them and seized classified information.
China has become very used to bluffing us with aggressive gestures that are in their own way just as hollow as our own. It’s being cautious because its leadership is unsure about trying to bluff Trump.
But there is a showdown coming.
Treason and complacency allowed the Communists to take over China. Truman had insisted on appeasing the Communists and forcing our allies to do the same thing. Today the United States continues to appease China while warning allies in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea not to defy it.
While we slept, China leveraged its vast industrial growth to build an empire that not only threatens Asia, but stretches into Africa and the Middle East. Its artificial islands are an example of how the regime meshes its impressive productivity and strategic goals. The one thing everyone across the political spectrum can agree on is that China thinks bigger than we do. They disagree on what to do about it.
China envy has been the left’s dirty little secret. Obama once told the media that it would be easier to be the president of China. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insisted, “The Chinese are more successful because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million.” What didn’t China have? “50 to 60 Republicans” in Congress obstructing the agenda.
If it wasn’t for democracy,
China is a bubble. Its power depends on maintaining artificial and unsustainable growth backed by the illusion of its inevitability. Trump represents a serious threat to both its growth and its inevitability.
Because of the bubble, a threat to that sense of inevitability may be the most threatening.
Despite the historical ironies, China is more nationalist than Communist. And like other non-Western nationalists, it made out like a bandit as the West descended deeper into globalism. China, like Turkey, Iran, Russia and the Sunni Muslims, wants to recapture a lost greatness at America’s expense.
China’s usual strategy with globalists was to threaten what they valued most; international relations. Globalists are obsessed with maintaining international linkages. Nationalists aren’t. The PRC’s usual weapon, the one that it used to cow Obama whose worst threat was being “isolated”, may now be useless. Worse still, Trump may be willing to use that very same weapon against China.
Trump has asserted before that other countries need us more than we need them. That’s the kind of talk that makes China very nervous. The PRC has no choice but to test Trump, but it’s doing so very carefully.
It showed some muscle with a nuclear bomber flight in the South China Sea to send a message to Trump while remaining safely on Obama’s watch. Its propagandistic bellowing about war in Taiwan is framed by expectations that Trump will back off once he sees how determined the PRC is to get its way.
Considering Trump’s election theme, it’s not surprising that his first international crisis is with China. While Democrats have rediscovered the Russian threat, after mocking Romney for it, Russia lacks the vigor to do more than inflict malicious damage on America and Europe while swallowing a few of its neighbors. China has the scope and energy for far more ambitious plans for Asia and the world.
Despite our focus on the Middle East, our ugliest losses in both economy and war have come out of Asia. Previous presidents have postponed an inevitable showdown by hoping that outsourcing much of our industry to China would make conflict less likely. This typically globalist thinking also typically achieved the opposite result, just as it is doing with Iran, by turning a deadly enemy into an even deadlier enemy.
This is not a mistake that Trump is likely to make. Previous administrations saw our trade with China as the solution. Trump sees it as a bigger threat than China’s military. In the eyes of some, his greatest heresy is his view of economic competition as a zero-sum game. That is also the Chinese view of it.
Trump needs to extract a mixture of economic and strategic concessions from China. And China seeks the same thing from America. Two visions of national greatness are on a collision course.
China may blink because it is not a democracy. Its leaders know that Trump will not be here after two terms while their system will move forward. But the instability of the bubble may limit the blink. Too much of China’s greatness is an illusion. And Trump threatens to shatter that illusion.
What China will do depends not on how strong it is, but on how weak and fragile it really is.
It has been a long time since any American president has dared to test China. Instead China has been doing all the testing. Now China is already trying to test Trump, but is it Trump who will test China.