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Beijing Not Moscow


If Trumpworld insiders are correct, Donald Trump has “for several years” known that it is Beijing and not Moscow that needs the undivided attention of US policymakers “if the US is to ensure that it remains the globe’s largest economy well even in the 21st century”. The US Head of State is “an old-fashioned patriot whose eyes still moisten when he sees Old Glory (the flag) being lifted”, and “it would be torture to him to watch the US economy take second place to that of China”. While a host of appointments (such as those of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) were made “in a futile staff-directed effort to pacify the Beltway, increasingly Trump is forming around him a team that acknowledges that the primary challenger to US supremacy—in fact, the only serious challenger in exactly 99 years—is China. These include National Security Advisor John Bolton and Trade Advisor Peter Navarro, both of whom have been savaged by the pundits of the Beltway almost as viciously as Trump has been. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while Director of Central Intelligence, “paid particular attention to the systematic manner in which each and every member of the Trump team and family were sought to be approached by individuals linked to the PRC”. According to those in contact with the President, “Pompeo warned the President each time such an approach was made” and in the case of the Trump family at least, “whenever there was such a warning, those close to Trump immediately downsized or gave up entirely contacts identified as potential or actual agents of influence” or “useful idiots of the challenger country” i.e. the People’s Republic of China. Unlike his predecessors, “who allowed their (Atlanticist) prejudice against Russia to dilute their vigil on China”, Secretary of State Pompeo “is entirely on the same page as his boss as to which country needs to be the focus of attention and action”. It may be added that Team Trump “has developed considerable respect for (Chinese Communist Party General Secretary) Xi Jinping for his ruthless determination to ensure that China reaches the top of the global table during his tenure”. During his (by now several) interactions with President Trump, “it became clear that Xi was quick to understand the nuances of an issue and how it could be turned into an advantage for China” in a manner absent from his two previous predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. These Trumpworld fixtures add that “the Chinese leadership has become so confident (of the future ascendancy of their country) that they openly declare their intentions in both manufacturing as well as in technology in words that admit of no other meaning than global dominance for the Chinese”. At the same time, the “unprecedented scale of the Belt & Road Initiative has exposed Team Xi’s ambition to make China the hub of global commerce”, including through making the RMB (or Chinese currency) as ubiquitous in global financial transactions as the US dollar has been since 1945”.


Last Chance


“If the US had acted in the high-minded manner mouthed by President George H.W. Bush after (the events of) 1989 in China and followed a policy of constraining the development of that country rather than shrugging away 1989 as of little consequence, workers in the US would not have undergone the agony of the hollowing out of its manufacturing base to China, which took place during the Bush and Clinton period”, an insider within Trumpworld said. According to him, “Both Bill Clinton as well as the two Bushes (during their terms as President) were indulgent to China and cared not a hoot about the economic consequences of such generosity to US interests”. He added that “if the sources of some of the funds that were made available to the Bush library and private interests of family members, and to the Clinton Foundation, were to be seriously examined by the FBI, some missing dots and dashes in alien influence on US policy may get bridged”. However, “the FBI is desperate to protect the Clintons while forcing the removal of President Trump”. Why? Because of the “deep roots that the Clinton machine has within the agencies, especially the machine’s tactic of assisting in secretly providing jobs and other help to those close to agency personnel, including spouses, mistresses and children”, beneficence that often continued beyond an official’s retirement. “President Trump knows that this is the last chance for the US to reverse the seemingly inevitable climb of China towards global leadership (replacing the US), and he intends to take it, no matter how difficult the path”. Team Trump is aware that Xi Jinping is the most formidable competitor the US has had since the 1930s, and that “efforts will be made by the lobbies active on the East Asian giant’s behalf to scare and shock USG (US Government) away from seeking a less one-sided trading relationship with China”. Already, he added, “a cacophony has gone up of those arguing in defence of the longstanding policy of allowing China to race ahead through taking away our technologies”. However, he was emphatic that “the President will not be deterred, as he shrugs off abuse and always moves ahead doing what he knows has to be done”. The probability is, therefore, that the trade scuffles between Beijing and Washington will intensify.


The North Korean Case


Recent US policy towards the DPRK (North Korea) highlights the innovative approach of the 45th President of the US, who has thrown away (failed) past precedents in his search for a winning strategy. While there remains a steady drumbeat of demands that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un denuclearise “completely and irreversibly” (a practical impossibility in the technological age), there may be a default strategy hidden away in the inventive mind of the unconventional businessperson who has been elected to lead his country by the US electorate. This may be to “co-opt Kim Jong Un into being a US ally”, exactly the way skilled diplomacy (initiated during the period in office of Barack Obama) has resulted in a de facto alliance between Hanoi and Washington. Kim is seen as a leader untethered to the ideologies of the past, and a steady warming of ties with the US may result in his modernising the DPRK economy the way Deng Xiaoping did in the 1980s. Such a transformation could come about even if the US were not to participate directly in the North Korean economy, leaving that to South Korea and to other powers such as India that may be eager to tap into the mineral and other resources of the northern part of the Korean peninsula. The calculation is that the more the Kim Jong Un regime gets integrated into the global economy, the less the possibility (or indeed the need) for him to adopt an aggressive line with his neighbours. Even Japan’s approach may change, with the hawkish Shinzo Abe being replaced with a more conciliatory politician in much the same way as Moon Jae-In took over from Park Gun-hye in Seoul. The “Surrender or War” option that Abe favours in dealing with Pyongyang could result in several hundred thousand Japanese citizens getting incinerated in the event of a conflict with North Korea, a reality that may persuade enough Japanese voters to move away from Abe to result in the defeat of the LDP. Because North Korea is treated as an outlaw (and has no other way of securing access to materiel and money than through clandestine and unwholesome methods), its weapons capability may be used as a threat as a consequence of the hostility against it. However, if Pyongyang gets integrated into the world economy (and not just China’s), Supreme Leader Kim’s incentive for hostile action would get considerably lowered. By giving Kim Jong Un unprecedented “face” through the personal meeting, and possibly even a visit to Washington, Present Donald Trump has (a) given Kim freedom of action in place of total reliance on Beijing and (b) shown him the benefits of adopting a benign rather than a threatening demeanour. The Shinzo Abe-John Bolton solution (which like the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns has no Plan B) would result in a minimum of two million casualties (President Trump’s own estimate is 30 million). Tensions around and within the Korean peninsula have for the first time since the 1950s been brought substantially down by the personal diplomacy of President Moon of South Korea, Supreme Leader Kim of North Korea and, most consequential—indeed indispensable—of all, President Trump of the United States.


Although many of his tactics may be camouflaged in “red herring” rhetoric, his acolytes say that the objective of President Donald J. Trump is clear “in his own complex mind”. It is to retain the Numero Uno title of the US against all comers, most notably the formidable challenger that is Xi’s China. Ultimately, insiders within the Trump ecosystem say that a significant slowdown of the momentum of progress in China could get caused by “smart” policy. And that this will result in a fall in public support for the Chinese Communist Party sufficient to create a mass reaction within that vast country. Hence their confidence that President Trump will (especially if he gets a second term) be for China what Reagan turned out to be for the USSR.


[The article was originally published in the Sunday Guardian on 23 June 2018 and is reproduced with permission.]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.