Gordon G. Chang: Trump is right to ditch 5 decades of failed US-China engagement policy
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In less than nine minutes, President Trump delivered remarks at the White House on Friday signaling his administration has ditched almost five decades of the American policy of engagement with China.
It’s about time. China has been challenging the United States across the board, and Trump – with his comprehensive comments Friday – signaled the United States would defend itself across the board.
Trump announced a series of actions, including:
Terminating America’s relationship with the World Health Organization. Trump said the WHO is biased in favor of China and has failed to approve reforms arising out of its dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China. The move cuts off about $450 million in U.S. funding for the WHO. Trump said the U.S. would use those funds for “other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”
Suspending entry into the U.S. of Chinese nationals posing a security risk.
Revoking almost all special exemptions and rules for Hong Kong and imposing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
Studying the “differing practices” of Chinese companies listed in the U.S.
The president signed a proclamation stating that he will block entry into the United States of Chinese students and researchers tied to U.S. military efforts.
In his brief remarks, Trump also commented on other matters, especially the spreading of the coronavirus. “The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” he said.
On the issue of Hong Kong, Chinese leaders were undoubtedly waiting to see if Trump would withdraw America’s special treatment of the beleaguered territory on trade and other issues. Some thought Trump would not do this, making this issue a test of his resolve. In meeting the test, the president showed political will rarely seen in American leaders.
Most observers thought the president would concentrate his remarks on Hong Kong. The surprising aspect of the comments was their comprehensive nature.
Moreover, the tone of the president’s words – he was not only adversarial but also angry – broke with decades of precedent. Chinese leaders have not heard an American leader talk to them this way in public.
The range of announced actions should concern Chinese leaders. The actions suggest Trump is now leading a whole-of-government charge on China.
Not everyone thought Trump was so resolute. The Financial Times, for instance, said Trump “pulled his punches,” not adopting a “range of measures” the markets feared. For instance, he did not terminate the Phase One trade deal, signed Jan. 15.
Yet the trade agreement looks shaky – termination or no termination. There are signs China will not meet its principal commitment – increasing purchases of American goods and services by $200 billion over a two-year period. A result, the trade deal is in danger.
The Financial Times also said the markets were relieved that Trump did not impose new tariffs or freeze assets of Chinese nationals.
The markets should not break out the champagne just yet, however. The Trump administration will be announcing more actions in the weeks to come, probably including “full expensing” for costs to relocate factories from China and Hong Kong to the United States.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the president’s National Economic Council, talked about such subsidies in an interview with Fox Business’ Stuart Varney on Tuesday.
Moreover, Trump’s mentioning of the behavior of listed Chinese companies is a warning that investment is the next big area on the chopping block.
China for months has been saying the “decoupling” of the United States from China was not possible. However, on Friday Trump was making the process look inevitable.
Trump said he wanted “an open and constructive relationship with China” – but ultimately the state of relations is not up to him.
Beijing, showing off its “wolf warrior diplomacy” has taken a series of aggressive actions since February including: invading India; engaging in boat-bumping and other incidents against six of its neighbors in the South China and East China Seas; threatening to invade Taiwan; breaking promises over Hong Kong; and increasing the tempo of dangerous intercepts of the U.S. Navy in China’s peripheral waters and airspace.
It’s not entirely clear why China is lashing out at this moment. Some say it’s a sign of strength. Others says it is a sign of weakness. But it is evident that America’s engagement policy has failed.
Engagers, adopting a long view, often ignored or condoned unacceptable Chinese behavior. That feckless policy approach – conducted by U.S. presidents of both parties and by liberals and conservatives alike – only emboldened the worst elements in Beijing by showing everybody else that aggression worked.
The upshot is that there is now a perception that Chinese communism cannot be reformed – meaning the only thing the Trump administration can do to protect America is to reduce exposure to China.
The underlying theme of the president’s actions Friday was that his administration is cutting ties with Chinese communism. That is the correct approach.
The People’s Republic of China is more than just an adversary. A year ago the Communist Party declared a “people’s war” on America. That hostility means that apart from surrendering to Beijing, there is not much Trump can do to patch up relations with China. This is not a Trump issue; it is a China one.
There will be costs in unwinding decades of misguided U.S. policies toward China – how could there not be? But Beijing is leaving Trump with little choice.
It’s time an American leader did what is necessary: go after China on all fronts. And that’s what the world heard Friday from President Trump.