Fri, Nov 30, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Trump yet to play the ultimate card

By Joseph Bosco

When US Vice President Mike Pence addressed the recent APEC summit, he criticized China for its myriad breaches of international norms. The US and the world have lost patience, he said, adding: “Things must change.”

He spoke these words 51 years after then-US president Richard Nixon issued the first urgent “China must change” message. In a Foreign Affairs article previewing the course he would follow in his historic opening to China, Nixon portrayed in stark terms the alternative course of history with an unchanged China:

“Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors,” Nixon said.

Integrating China into the international community would bring about reform in its economic and political systems, Nixon said.

More importantly for the cause of regional and global peace, engagement was the only way to ensure that a future China would moderate its innate hostility toward the West and let go of its historical grievances — real, imagined and contrived.

Every subsequent administration took measures to integrate China more fully in the international system, always with the same rationale: It would help China change for the better. Unfortunately, neither the Nixon administration nor any of its successors — including US President Donald Trump’s administration — bothered to assign any kind of normative metrics to judge how, or whether, China’s communist ideology was moderating its attitude toward either its own people or the outside world.

Instead, most China-watchers, in and out of government, focused on the dramatic openings in its economy and comfortably presumed that political reform and a more benign worldview would inevitably follow. Some who prospered as China rose did not fret about whether China was becoming a normal member of the family of nations as long as business was good.

However, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), author of the economic changes, brought the reality of the Chinese communist system crashing home long before Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) arrived on the scene. On June 4, 1989, he said no to the call for political change and turned the army against the Chinese people, slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands, who had shared optimistic assumptions about change.

In his message to the Chinese Communist Party in 1990, Deng provided an important clue to China’s future relationship with the West.

Responding to the post-Tiananmen backlash and the collapse of Eastern European communist regimes, he told his colleagues to “hide our capabilities and bide our time.”

The line was much quoted in the West, but little attention was paid to its ominous meaning and important questions were rarely asked.

Why did China have to hide anything from the world, and was it hiding not only its capacities, but also its intentions? Was this part of the Chinese tradition of political and diplomatic deception, perfected to a crude high art under its communist regime? And, most significantly, for what was Beijing biding its time? What would come next when the time was right?

Since grasping power, Xi has provided answers to these questions — and they boil down to a truth that was there all along, since the creation of the People’s Republic of China: its perception that the West, led by the US, is the mortal enemy.

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