Fri, Nov 09, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Trump should keep China tactics

By Joseph Bosco

US President Donald Trump is doing a huge favor for Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) — and he should keep doing it. His administration’s increasingly hard-nosed policies can steer China away from a course that is leading inevitably to outright conflict with the West.

Avoiding a US-China war would be a genuine win-win outcome, not another of the rhetorical charades that, up to now, have given China virtually all it wants in the economic, diplomatic and military realms — in return for few of the promised economic reforms and none of the anticipated political reform.

The US president and his savvy national security team have made it clear to Beijing that the old ways of doing business are over — no more cheating on currency and trade; stealing US technology; enabling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs; aggressive moves in the East and South China seas; bullying democratic Taiwan; and, potentially, no more human rights outrages — or China will pay an increasingly heavy price, risking even the communist regime’s survival.

Call it a form of geostrategic tough love. Previous US administrations won Beijing’s plaudits — if not actual respect — for their indulgence and concessions, despite Beijing’s chicanery and aggression. However, without meaning to, they were setting the Chinese system up for ultimate failure and even self-destruction — like a parent giving a child everything they want without understanding that the real world will demand consequences at some point. (No, China is not the US’ child.)

A Chinese Communist Party comeuppance might be exactly what the Chinese people themselves want, which would explain Trump’s popular approval in China, possibly more than he enjoys in the US. It parallels somewhat the admiration of former US president Ronald Reagan among the populations in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, who looked to that US president as their hope for liberation from communist tyranny and incompetence. Some of Reagan’s policies were also more popular in those countries than they were at home.

The Trump administration has benefited from the maximum-pressure test run to get North Korea serious about eliminating its nuclear and missile programs. There are miles still to go to actual denuclearization, but the president is justified in believing the combination of credible military action, escalating economic sanctions and unprecedented focus on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s human rights depredations as rendering the regime unfit to govern, were what moved the “Dear Leader” to make a fundamental rethink of his situation.

The same motivational elements can be applied to Washington’s overall relationship with Beijing, and the Trump administration has many more cards to play. The Trump-Xi personal rapport might afford some essential face-saving for the kinds of concessions and backing-off that Xi will need to undertake if a catastrophic showdown is to be avoided.

However, high-level sweet talk aside, only US clarity of purpose, unyielding will and credible economic, diplomatic and military preparedness will convince Chinese leaders that their 46-year free run is over and change is unavoidable.

One factor that is causing “confusion” in Beijing, according to some Chinese and US academics, is the sudden absence of a reliable back channel to the administration. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who perfected the back-door technique for “successful” diplomacy with both the Soviets and the Chinese, still has access to Trump and presumably recommends the same concessionary China policies he has advocated for almost 50 years. (He recently denied he had ever proposed a US-Russia collaboration against China.)

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