Trump is trying to shove 4 years of China policy into 4 months - Business Insider

Opinion | Trump is trying to shove 4 years of China policy in 4 months. By @lopezlinette.

8/2/2020 3:29:00 PM

Opinion | Trump is trying to shove 4 years of China policy in 4 months. By lopezlinette.

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The White House is considering banning Communist Party members (roughly 90 million people) from the US.The State Department made noise about China's "" buildup of military bases in the South China Sea.The US retaliated against China for a crackdown on US journalists with a

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 on Chinese journalists in the US.Attorney General Barr made a speech accusing tech giants of being too cozy with China.And finally last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a speech at the Nixon Library, replete with historical inaccuracies and hyperbole about the need for the US to turn its back on China and form a new world order of like-minded countries. He said that our country's naive (perhaps greedy) hope that China would become more liberal with our influence should be more than dashed at this point.

"President Reagan said that he dealt with the Soviet Union on the basis of 'trust but verify.'  When it comes to the CCP, I say we must distrust and verify," Pompeo said. "We, the freedom-loving nations of the world, must induce China to change, just as President Nixon wanted. We must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing's actions threaten our people and our prosperity."

How exactly the US will induce China to change is unclear. What Pompeo is describing is hardly a strategy, it's more of an attitude adjustment, and that's not lost on Democrats in Congress. Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a hearing on the US-China relationship, and Ranking Member Bob Menendez — like the rest of his Democratic colleagues — had nothing positive to say about China's behavior. That doesn't mean they think this pivot is wise, though, either.

"When China retaliates as it says it will, what will be our next move, and the next move after that," Menendez asked. "This is not a simple two-step dance." He called for a "new era of strategic competition with China" and "a new strategic framework."

But that's not what we're getting here. What we're getting looks less like grand design and more like a Jackson Pollock painting.We used to have an understandingNone of this is lost on China. A former State Department official told me that Chinese officials understand that Trump is at his most dangerous now. He's looking at his

flagging poll numbers, the shortening calendar before the election and trying to impress his base. Beijing knows that China hardliners in Congress and the administration see this as their last shot to enact harsh policies before — what could be— the end of Trump's time in office. 

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Conversely, the China hardliners — who know Trump doesn't actually care about issues like human rights — think China will use these last few months of the administration to test the boundaries of what Trump will tolerate, even in this more aggressive posture. 

Yes, this is extremely dangerous.Meanwhile the global economy is on tenterhooks as the coronavirus rips through the United States virtually unchecked. China needs the US market, the US market is on its knees. It would be nice if the two powers could talk this situation out, but as Guggenheim Investments Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd this move from a policy of strategic ambiguity with China to one of open hostility has made cooperation unlikely. 

"Pre-virus tensions have not disappeared due to the pandemic, they have escalated as blame is being cast on China for both causing and trying to cover up the virus," Minerd wrote in anote to clients."Anti-China sentiment in the US is bipartisan and as fervent as it has been since about the 1950s. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden are talking tough on China, and this is likely to lead to a more muscular approach to China that will characterize whichever administration is in power in 2021."

American public opinion is following its leaders. According to an Aprilsurveyconducted by the Pew Research Center 66% of Americans have an unfavorable view of China, making it even harder for politicians from either side of the aisle to take a softer stance.

There are some in the US-China watching business, including former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who fear "decoupling" — a split between the US and Chinese economies that leaves the world divided into two camps. Some favorpartial decoupling

, in which the US distances itself from China by cutting off ties in the technology space but maintaining financial relations.There is no precedent for such an arrangement, but there is more than enough precedent for this relationship spinning out of control and imploding. The US-China relationship is a

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cycle of opening and closing. China opens when it needs outside money and closes when the money isn't worth the outside intrusion.On the American side, there have been people in the US working to keep the door to China open, even just a bit. In the next four months we may watch a US administration do all it can to slam it closed.

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