This week will mark two significant anniversaries of world-changing events. The D-Day invasion of the allies on June 6, 1944 to free Europe from the Nazis was a peak of the American Century, for at the point of victory over national socialism followed by the defeat of Japanese militarism, the United States stood unchallenged as the dominant economic and military power, in a position to dictate the terms of world order. The other anniversary, on June 4, is the 3oth of the massacre of thousands of innocents in the brutal crackdown by the People’s Liberation Army of peaceful protestors for civil rights in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, an event which in hindsight should have convinced U. S. and allied leaders of the true intentions and underlying principles of the regime of the rising China and the degree to which this regime would be on a collision course with the reigning world power.
I touched on this confrontation briefly in January of this year in a mention of Graham Allison’s book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, and comments on Vice President Mike Pence’s speech last October which turned up the heat on this question. I am not suggesting that we are headed for a hot war, but I am suggesting that this is not primarily about a trade deal that can be consummated in short order so that everyone can go back to their business as usual. This is a major long-term clash between two incompatible systems–free market democracy vs. a mercantilist/authoritarian/often criminal state, and only one system will survive intact. This is a fight about whose century the 21st will be–who will define it, what model will prevail–and at the end of the day we’re asking China to place its entire business model on the table for negotiation; every component is at stake, from the colonialism of the “Belt and Road” initiative, to the building of islands in the South China Sea, to the rampant theft of technology, to the cyberspace and academic espionage, etc., etc.
This is where the trail has led us, from mass murder with impunity at Tiananmen Square through Bill Clinton’s ill-advised recognition of China with most-favored nation trade status, sponsorship of China’s membership in the World Trade Organization, and the pipe dream of every U. S. administration that China’s assimilation into the world order of nations would produce advancement toward democratic and human rights ideals. I am critical of several aspects of Donald Trump’s approach to the crisis–he doesn’t understand trade economics, he treats our much-needed allies with contempt, and maybe withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was at least premature, etc.–but Trump is the first U. S. President to seriously confront China across the board, as with the moral clarity of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech this week honoring the “heroes of the Chinese people” at Tiananmen. The Chinese leaders know this and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce had better get used to it–the game is over and they can no longer have it both ways.
So when will Trump work towards re-cinding China’s membership in the WTO?
Instead of picking at it piecemeal, on an ad-hock basis, there should be a coordinated effort.
“…and maybe withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was at least premature, ..”
That’s not a “maybe” – the TPP was specifically designed to hem in China, through a coordinated effort on the part of over a dozen Pacific – rim countries. The issue for Trump is that it was a multilateral group, and he prefers one on one transactional arrangements….a reasonable strategy when you are a developer, not when you are in government.
In business if you can’t sell to one customer, you go on to the next one…But in international politics, you can’t just leave the table if you do not get anything you want. Countries are all unique and irreplaceable…you may need that country down the road, for a military base, to stop arms shipments, or to help out in a hostage situation….
Chinese philosophy and culture has much to offer the world, but the current brutality of the regime (taking Canadians hostage to put pressure on the country for the release of the Huawei CFO is but one example). This should be met with a shunning of China until it plays by the rules…
James Windham says
Some valid points here. I will add these:
* China’s membership in the WTO should be on the table.
* No doubt we need more help from allies and this is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
* I have visited China with a delegation as a guest of the Communist Party School, mainly on cultural issues, and they do have a lot to offer, but not until they answer for a lot of behavioral problems.
* And ham-handed as he is, Trump is still the only President who has really confronted China.
“… And ham-handed as he is, Trump is still the only President who has really confronted China….
This is true. I also cannot say that any other approach than a blunt one would get anywhere, a lot of countries in Asia have an ability to agree to everything, and accomplish nothing on what was agreed to. I remember reading the travails of western Businessmen in the 1960’s – 90’s trying to do business In Japan. Who at the table is the “real” decision maker? Everyone nods up and down, and the translator say they all agree, but weeks, months go by and nothing happens….China has the added issue of being an authoritarian country.
As to Trump being the only US president who has confronted China…as the old saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a chestnut every now and then…