Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Rhetoric of War, against China

Several days ago I heard a retired army general explain that the Trump administration had done a wondrous thing by changing the rhetoric towards China. No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more conciliation and reconciliation. We hated China, about as much as the American left hated Trump. And we would defame, demean, insult and offend them as much as we wanted.

Macho posturing, mixed with braggadocio, what could be wrong with that. Wasn’t China the sum of all evils in the world today? We would stand for our ideals and treat China the way they deserved to be treated.

So, top Trump administration officials were saying that we are going to make China pay, that we are not going to let them get away with anything, and that are going to teach them a lesson. Ask yourself to whom you use such rhetoric. Certainly not to your children, I trust.

As I have occasionally pointed out, such rhetoric will be considered by China to be a threat to face. The Chinese government will always respond forcefully to threats to face. It’s called saving face. And one should have expected them to respond forcefully when the Trump administration placed the CFO of Huawei under house arrest. It was a shot across China’s bow. Any policymaker who imagined that it would not elicit a counterattack is unworthy of his position.

If world affairs are a chessboard, China has made some interesting moves since the Trump administration started pretending to be tough on China. Which moves? Like the crackdown in Hong Kong, the end of negotiations with North Korea, threats to Taiwan, increased activity in the South China Sea, a lack of cooperation on the coronavirus and now a new massive trade deal with Iran.

On these matters we have normally placed our trust on David Goldman. After all, he had been part of a Trump administration task force on China, but had left it after he noticed that its leaders, people like Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon were so enthralled by their macho posturing that they had failed to consider China’s counter moves.

In Goldman’s words:

China last week signed a $400 billion, 30-year investment deal with Iran. American sanctions against Iran are effectively nullified. China’s state press declared, “As it stands, this deal will totally upend the prevailing geopolitical landscape in the West Asian region that has for so long been subject to US hegemony.”  As former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar reports in Asia Times, Chinese state media declare that China will trade with Iran and other Central Asian currencies in its own currency, bypassing the dollar-based world banking system. U.S. leverage against Iran is gone. It was obvious for the past year that China might play the Iran card. I warned of this in August 2020.

The Biden administration now says it’s seeking Chinese help to revive the Iran nuclear deal. That sounds pathetic and defeatist, but the fact is that as long as China is willing to prop up Iran’s economy, there isn’t a damned thing we can do about it. This is payback for Washington’s attempts to stifle China’s dominance in 5G broadband by choking off the supply of high-end computer chips to China and similar measures. Trump and his team of China hawks, including Mike Pompeo and Peter Navarro, do not appear to have considered how China might outflank us. Now the Biden administration has been presented with a fait accompli and probably will come to terms with a Chinese diktat (supported by the Europeans and Russia).

As Goldman notes, this deal had been in the works for months now. When it was first announced, one reporter suggested that if we had halfway decent diplomatic relations with China, we might have had some influence on the deal. Yet, while we are trying to destroy Chinese businesses and announcing, in stentorian tones, that we are going to make China pay for what it has done, we have sacrificed our leverage. Note that China is trying to replace the dollar with its yuan in international transactions. It is very ominous indeed.

For a retired American general to laud the Trump administration rhetoric, to say nothing of its actions against Chinese companies, is seriously short sighted.

I recognize that many readers think that China is an evil empire and that it deserves what it gets. But, as an old Chinese proverb says, Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.


Anonymous said...

I think you missed the mark. China was going to do all of these things anyway. Trump merely chose to stop helping them. No worries, with Biden as puppet/president we are fully supporting and groveling to China again. What could go wrong?

IamDevo said...

Once again, Trump's negotiating strategy is the key to understanding his rhetoric. He rightfully perceived that one does not succeed in a negotiation by entering it from a position of weakness. His rhetoric was a signal to China that we would no longer accede to its undermining of the West, and specifically, America, but would "fight" instead. Once the negotiating positions of the parties were clarified, then accommodation could occur, so long as the eventual outcome advanced American interests. If Chinese interests were also advanced, then a "win/win" situation would be the outcome. IF not, then we would emerge from negotiations no worse off than before. Recall what he did with North Korea. People who fail to understand this will always fail to appreciate Trump's greatness.