Sounds Like Something Pretty Important Happened This Weekend

I typically refuse to talk publicly about issues like Taiwan but based upon the sheer panic I’ve seen from so many DC journos and think tankers, I feel it is important to put some things down. The saying around here is I can talk about anything as long as it isn’t about the four T’s: Taiwan, Tibet, Tiananmen Square, and The Party. I feel it is important to place what I’m saying in a little context and back ground, that will also help us disentangle some of the issues we are talking about.

  1. I am no fan of Trump and I did not vote for him. His idea to unilaterally raise tariffs on Chinese products to 45% is simply put insane ramblings.
  2. I do however favor stronger foreign policy towards China. The past two administrations have nearly formalized a policy of appeasement across a range of issues.
  3. While I think it is fair to question is this a good policy and how will Trump behave going forward, the hysteria seems to far outpace the reality of what has happened. There are quotes from senior Party member professors wondering aloud about ending China’s relationship with the United States being cited as reasoned positions by the American press.  It is very different to question how this strategy will play out and what Trump hopes to achieve than reverting to doom and gloom vitriol as many have.
  4. This was a planned action by the incoming President elect and was neither ad-hoc or done without deliberation. This is clearly part of some strategy by the incoming Trump administration about how they plan to treat China and Taiwan.  Again, we can debate that riskiness of the strategy and whether it is appropriate given a variety issues, but that again is very different that falling back on a clearly erroneous narrative that attributes this phone call to little more than dialing the wrong number.
  5. The critics of the phone call are making two vitally critical errors in questioning the wisdom of the policy of accepting the phone call. First, that China is operating from a position of relative strength.  China is in reality dealing with a much weaker hand.  An excessively indebted economy kept afloat only with massive credit stimulus. A trade war would be disastrous for both sides but would harm China much more than the United States.  China is already facing push back from most in east and south east Asia so they have real difficulty achieving their foreign policy objectives without massive damage to their international reputation. They have a much weaker hand to play than most realize.
  6. Second, some have argued the United States depends significantly on Chinese cooperation across a range of issues. This is simply bubble headed eternally optimistic gibberish.  The only thing longer lasting than the China crisis caller is the bubble headed optimist who says China will become a market driven democratic country who will become a responsible stake holder in global leadership.  Beijing is actively pushing a global authoritarian regime that seeks to promote illiberal undemocratic values and regimes in every forum.  Even on issues of importance to the US, China has actively sought to combat US interests.  China has been actively aiding Pyongyang to exporting forbidden materials to Iran through Chinese SOE’s.  These are not accidents any more than Trump accidentally calling Taiwan.  Even today, China blocking UN Security Council attempts to address human rights abuses and global conflicts.  Across many issues, China has actively been working against US national interests.  Cries that US needs China cooperation lack understanding about issues where this plays out.  What astounds me most about this line of thinking is how absurdly low people will set the bar for Chinese cooperation to convince themselves China is providing active cooperation.  I saw one comment that China has not invaded Taiwan, therefore they were cooperating with America.  This is like saying a husband who doesn’t beat his wife is a good husband. No, he is just a husband who doesn’t beat his wife, it says nothing about how caring a husband he is.  It just means he isn’t a scum bag abuser, says nothing about his fitness as a husband.  It should be thoroughly disabused that China is somehow some close ally who significantly cooperates with US across a range of forums and issues.  This is simply not true.
  7. While I will be critical of wailing and gnashing of teeth by many people, the risks on the other side need to be clearly understood. This is a bold and potentially risky move by the President elect that clearly shifts policy priorities, However, one of his major policy planks was he was going to stand up to China more than the outgoing administration.  While the Obama administration has pursued a large number of anti-dumping cases against China, they have largely been acquiescent to China across a range of issues.  This is definitely charting a new course for US policy with regards to China and there will be significant risks that need to be handled much more delicately than Twitter rants.  The President elect will not be able to realize objectives and create very real security risks by conducting international negotiations via Twitter.
  8. What has amazed me is both how much China has shifted to goal posts as to what constitutes an actual policy problem and how much of the foreign policy community has bought into the Chinese temper tantrum. As a short list of things we could cite China has built bases in international waters, actively aided North Korea and Iran, hacked most of corporate and government institutions in the US, and supplied arms to most every conflict zone on the planet but the US foreign policy community freaks out over a 10 minute phone call.  This is nearly a text book case of Stockholm syndrome. When exactly would you be willing to risk offending China?  There is an active community of people that study, write about, publish policy papers, and consult about China and as best I can tell after this weekend, most of them don’t actually want to do anything about the problems that so eloquently write or talk about.  They would much rather continue writing about the problems and never actually do anything about them for fear of offending China.
  9. Where so many people go wrong is an assuming that China is a trusted partner to work with to solve problems either on a bilateral or multilateral basis. They issue very nice press releases at the United Nations or after the G-20 but China is firmly and fundamentally in a neo-Cold War mentality viewing the United States as an enemy.  Let me make perfectly clear, I do not mean enemy in the sense of strategic competitor, I mean enemy who threatens the government and country of China.  China is using the strategy of making small incremental gains so as to change to goal posts so people over time don’t even realize how much they have changed.  The ongoing entrenchment of an illiberal order advocated by Chinese apologists outside of China who seem unconcerned by the promotion of a regime and governance order with values they claim to so actively repudiate.  For instance, some have made the argument that this is an unprecedented breach of diplomatic etiquette.  It does concern me however to hear supposed liberal internationalists defend Chinese precedent like lack of democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights. I guess those are Chinese precedents that shouldn’t be touched either for fear of offending Beijing. You cannot simultaneously believe taking a harder line with China is a bad thing and that the values and interests China is promoting are also bad. The Economist today writes that the US should not stand by Taiwan because China is more important. I reiterate my proposal that we propose to China that we give them Taiwan, the Philippines, the south China Sea and half of Malaysia to secure peace in our time.  These types of appeasement strategies of giving away Sudetenland by supposed defenders of liberal values represent the spinelessness of so many.
  10. Given all the talk about the “post-truth” society brought on by the Trump administration, it is worthy to apply this idea to this weekend. Though the Trump phone call is clearly a signal, it is worth noting that the Obama administration just within the past year sold nearly $2 billion worth of military weaponry to Taiwan which would seem to send an even stronger signal about US policy. Though the diplomatic etiquette may suffer a greater breach from the phone call, military weaponry is clearly a much stronger signal and something the Obama administration should be commended for.  The Obama administration clearly knew where Taiwan was and who they were when he sold them this weaponry.  Yet the 10 minute phone call prompts high pitched hysterics.
  11. For the record, I would not have advised taking the call. If the incoming Trump administration wanted to make a point about the direction of policy, I would have done something smaller like issue a press release thanking Taiwan for their warm congratulations on the election, as an example.
  12. I do not like the move because it is too big an early move. This is like receiving the opening kick off and going long on the first play.  You are sending a message for sure but generally not a good opening play.  I would have advised smaller incremental moves to signal the direction of policy rather than this.
  13. For the record, I would strongly advise that Trump give up his Twitter account. Most definitely NOT the way to conduct international negotiations.
  14. For the record, I would strongly advise PEOTUS to back of the China issue for a while. The first move has been made.  Push the envelope is fine, but do not take a hack saw to it.
  15. To everyone talking about, the oncoming nuclear war (yes, I have seen those Tweets), this is way too soon to tell what will happen. All this hysterical kvetching by the chattering class is like day after the NFL draft declaring each team a winner or a loser and which players will be stars.  You have no idea.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Sounds Like Something Pretty Important Happened This Weekend

  1. Pingback: Monday assorted links - Marginal REVOLUTION

  2. Pingback: Christopher Balding on Trump and Taiwan • Zhi Chinese

  3. Uh, wow. Well, much respect to you sir, this essay is not exactly risk-free. Stay safe out there. You deserve the thanks of every decent man and every believer in the virtues of the republic.

    His election is a bit of a cosmic joke, but Trump did manage to win, so now when he’s criticized things one must stop and ask whether Cruz or Rubio might well have done the same thing, and here the answer is pretty clearly yes. The Beltway crowd’s become a Brahmin class, overdue for some orderly pruning, and would be nearly as freaked out by any Republican.

    It would be hard to be surprised if an unrepentant Trump eventually does manage to do something so thoroughly corrupt, venal, and awful that every sensible person must condemn his actions, but Milton Friedman had it right: it’s not about electing the right people, it’s about getting the wrong people to do the right thing. American institutions are still strong; the courts and Congress are already rolling their eyes at aspects of his agenda. Things are plenty worse in some other places.

    • Could not agree more. Trump gets no style points but one thing, focusing on China, that most people miss is that there is broad agreement across the US political spectrum and even in most developed countries to take a harder line with China. If handled properly, which I doubt it will be, Trump could put together a broad political coalition both domestically and internaitonally, to gain additional market access not just for the US but for other countries. I won’t hold my breath.

  4. Sorry, that should have read “so now when he’s criticized one must stop and ask whether Cruz or Rubio might well have done the same thing.”

Comments are closed.