Trump versus the Democrats on China
US President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. (Photo: AP)
By John F. Copper

Trump versus the Democrats on China

Jun. 13, 2019  |     |  0 comments

Almost daily the US mainstream media report that the Democratic Party opposes everything President Donald Trump does or wants to do. In fact, most members of the party, including party leaders, don’t deny this.

Everything that is except Trump’s tough stance on trade with China! They agree with it. They even applaud it.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a Trump hater of the first order, recently said that he has never agreed with Trump on anything — except his burly stance against China on trade. He even said that he is “closer on this issue” to Trump than he was to either Bush or Obama.

What gives?

Of course, Democrats are thinking of the election in 2020 and are looking for a foreign policy issue that has resonance. Anti-China sentiment in the United States is one choice.

But it is obviously much more than this. Looking deeper into what might otherwise be common grounds with President Trump and an issue that might bring the two together, there are good reasons to believe the two are not at all of the same mind.

President Trump’s view of China was framed long before he became president: China was taking advantage of the United States on trade and that caused the shuttering of American companies because they could not compete with Chinese imports. Large numbers of US workers lost their jobs as a result. China was hurting America, Trump charged in his books.

But Trump didn’t blame China. Chinese leaders were acting in China’s national interest; they were doing their best for Chinese citizens, he wrote. Other countries did the same thing, but China’s footprint was bigger because it was an economic giant.

He impugned American leaders for letting this happen. To Trump they were the culpable ones. New US leaders and different policies would easily fix the problem.

President Trump has not changed his narrative significantly since then, not even after the trade issue became very heated beginning early 2018. He assailed Huawei; but that is because he sees Huawei as government run and pressure on it will help Trump get a better deal on trade. He has taken some other punitive actions to pressure Beijing to negotiate a trade deal he likes. But he has stuck to the central problem being a trade imbalance.

President Trump foresees a narrow struggle with China. China is not the enemy of the United States. President Trump likes Chinese culture as witnessed by his grandchildren learning Chinese and speaking it daily.  He worked with Chinese on building projects in the past. He likes President Xi and sees Xi and other Chinese leaders as his friends. He doesn’t think the current tension with China over trade will last.

In contrast Democrats see China as a nefarious challenger and the US struggle with China profoundly deeper and broader than Donald Trump. They base this on the Western view of human rights, their backing of liberal democracy (even though their view has been cast in doubt by the deep state), their now aged perception they are the champions of Third World development (when it is China that has become the leader at this). They see conflict with China as a life and death matter. They believe it will be long lasting.

What underlies the big differences in perspectives?

The Democratic Party believes China is the sworn enemy of the Western liberal world order created by the United States and its European allies after World War II. Democrats embrace this rule-based system built on open markets, liberal trade practices, global prosperity and peace, Western democracy, equality and the sanctity of the United Nations and international law. Its institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund sustain the global financial system and advance help to developing countries.

The poser is that many people and countries now see the liberal world order as antiquated and soon to become defunct. Also, Americans never supported it enthusiastically; recently many voters have come to oppose it. Russia and China paid lip service to it as long as they could benefit from America’s generosity. Now their governments offer a competing model to democracy, which in any case has lost its shine even in Western countries. Even the Pope concurs.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in his recent book A World in Disarray, writes that the world system is in a state of “decay even collapse.” Henry Kissinger writes something similar in his book World Order.

John Mearsheimer, the eminent American political scientist argues in his book The Great Delusion that a liberal order accords with a unipolar international system, not other systems. It was premised on America’s unrivaled power and influence. But that is no more. Bipolarity and multipolarity favor realism and nationalism that are much stronger isms.

The Democratic Party will almost certainly hold onto its deep-seated antipathy toward China. It is based on more than just a trade dispute. Democrats will then likely disagree with Trump on everything, including his China policy.

China’s dream is very different; in fact, it is at odds with the liberal world order and is viewed by Democrats as China’s plot to supplant it. The “dream” made its debut, they note, when Xi Jinping became head of the party and government in 2012 and 2013, though it is found in China’s literary history, including poets of the past using the term, and it came into vogue in the early 20th century (shortly before the “American dream” became popular).

Alas, when he assumed the top leadership positions in China, President Xi announced he would no longer adhere to a policy of humbleness. He said it was no longer feasible. Chinese citizens and observers around the world alike already regarded China as a big power. China had passed the United States to become the world’s largest manufacturing nation and the foremost trading country. Its economy was bigger than America’s if using purchasing power parity as a measure — as was employed by many international financial organizations.

Furthermore, Xi felt China had to end its narrative of victimhood: the hundred-plus years of humiliation beginning with the Opium War that was followed by Western imperialism’s oppression of China. China unabashedly assuming a bigger role in international politics didn’t comport with dwelling on the past. Neither did China’s Belt and Road Initiative that hooks up China to much of the rest of the world by maritime links, rail lines, roads, pipelines and more and that has cost China a trillion dollars heading for five or six trillion, compared to America’s largest global project, rebuilding Europe after World War II at a cost (in today’s dollars) of a bit more one hundred billion. Nor did “China 2025,” a project President Xi expects will make China number one in the world in science and technology and more, comport.

Democrats, along with their allies, the Western liberal media, Hollywood and academe, viewed China’s dream as an existential threat and China an enemy of the West. China must be taken down. China’s dream needed to be destroyed.

There was another reason for Democrats and President Trump to part company.

Democrats trust multilateralism. They see the evolving world system as a multipolar one. But only if the US acts full-bore against China and gets its allies to do the same.

Donald Trump’s approach to the world is bilateralism. He sees the world system as bipolar — the US and China. Trump certainly does not see the European Union, Russia or Japan competing for world power status. They are declining powers.

Indeed, the European Union is fragmenting. Europe’s economic growth is anemic. According to recent data, the EU’s gross national product growth is around a third of China’s. Europe is spending but a fraction of what China allocates to research and development of artificial intelligence, quantum physics, 5G and other components of future national power.

Europe’s military prowess is a thing of the past and will continue to decline relative to other powers. The EU will continue to head toward irrelevance on the world stage.

The same is true of Japan. Its economy is anemic. Growth is even slower than Europe. It is a military power only as a subordinate to the United States. It no longer competes with China in economic or military influence.

Russia is in the same boat. It wants to be a global power; but it has little hope of realizing that. Its GDP is one tenth of China. Its military spending is one-tenth of the United States. Anyway, it is China’s ally and will likely stay that.

For Democrats and their confederates, China’s rise also portends bad things in terms of US domestic politics. The Democrat Party’s liberal views embrace equality in terms of race and gender in education and elsewhere. It rationalizes affirmative action, quotas, etc.  This justifies hating China and Chinese that espouse a quite different view.

To China liberal America is in a state of decay. It is racist in college and university admissions policies to the best institutions, the media is negative in reporting on China and Chinese, and Hollywood discriminates against Asians, especially Chinese, in movies and television.

Recently, Asian students sued Harvard University over racial bias in its admissions policy. President Trump supported the Asian students’ suit to the embarrassment of Democrats.

But the main takeaway to all of this is: When President Trump concludes a deal with China on trade, his relationship with China will quickly become a positive one and the US, China and the world will benefit. He understands that cordial and workable US-China relations are a sine qua non for global finances to be stable, for nuclear proliferation to be controlled, for global warming to be contained, for illegal drug trafficking to be reduced, for terrorism to be checked and much more.

The Democratic Party will almost certainly hold onto its deep-seated antipathy toward China. It is based on more than just a trade dispute. Democrats will then likely disagree with Trump on everything, including his China policy.

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