My favorite story in John Boltons book on the sorry Donald Trump Fun House, the White House was that the president called on the leader of China to buy more American farm products to increase Trumps’ agricultural vote and re-election.
Donald: Stop begging. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have decided to vote for you.Do not worry!
They know that as long as you are president, America will be in turmoil. For Xi, this means that the Americas are a less formidable economic rival, and for Vlad, this means that America is a less attractive democratic model for its people. They also know that as long as you are president, the United States can never galvanize a global coalition of allies against them, which China fears most for trade, human rights and COVID-19 and the Russia for Ukraine and Syria.
Don’t take it from me. Here’s what Zhou Xiaoming, a former Chinese trade negotiator and deputy representative in Geneva, said Bloombergs Peter Martin: If Biden is elected, I think it could be more dangerous for China, because he will work with allies to target China, while Trump destroys American alliances.
Chinese officials, Martin reported, see a united front on trade or human rights by the United States and its allies as Washingtons’ greatest asset in controlling the expansion of China’s influence, and Trumps’ behavior guarantees it will never happen.
But while China may think it has nothing to fear and a lot to gain from Trump’s victory over Joe Biden, the real Chinese-American story should be alarming in Beijing.
The real story is that the Chinese standing in the United States today are lower than ever since Tiananmen Square in 1989. The real story is that if China were to buy a few more beans and Boeings in America, it would not solve Beijing’s problems here. The real question that the Chinese should ask themselves is not who will be the next president of the Americas, but rather: who in China has lost America?
Because the real story is that the United States and China are headed for a divorce.
The divorce documents will simply say that the cause was irreconcilable differences. But mom and dad know better. They divorce two systems after 40 years of marriage, because Chinawrong overreachedand americapoorly underperformed.
Like it or hate it, the American-Chinese partnership forged between 1979 and 2019 has brought a lot of prosperity to a lot of people and a lot of relative peace in the world and, baby, we will miss it when it leaves.
It was a period of unconscious economic coupling. During this period, and soon after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, any American entrepreneur could wake up and say: I want to buy from this Chinese company or I want to move this chain of supply in China. Any American university could say, I want to open a campus in China, and any American technology company could say, I want to open a research laboratory in China or hire a Chinese scientist.
And any Chinese student could say, I want to study in America, and any qualified Chinese company could say, I want to list on the New York Stock Exchange or invest or buy in an American company.
These four decades of unconscious coupling have hurt some workers, benefited many others and especially consumers; it also lessened the natural rivalry between the most powerful country in the world and the largest rising power and allowed them to collaborate on global issues, such as climate change and the post-2008 economic crisis.
These 40 years of unconscious coupling are over. The two countries will continue to trade, to always engage diplomatically; tourists come and go again; American companies will always seek to operate in the giant Chinese market because they have to survive.
But the unconscious coupling is finished. From now on, he will be more covered, the opportunities will be more limited and the relationship will be full of much more conscious suspicions, pressures for self-sufficiency and the fear of a break-up at any time.
Compared to the past 40 years,it will look like a divorce.
Both sides say Weve got tired of you, said Jim McGregor, president of APCO Worldwide for Greater China. And as Trump himself said in a tweet last week, the United States has the possibility of full decoupling from China.
But the two parties are not equally responsible. The Xi era in US-China relations, which began in 2012, has led the relationship to steadily decline. China has gone too far on a wide range of issues.
Start with business. For many years, American companies have believed that they have enough market share in China to tolerate intellectual property theft and other commercial abuses that China has engaged in. But over the past decade, China has started to outdo itself and the American Chamber of Commerce in China has started to complain louder and louder. Gradually, many business people in the United States, who were a key buffer in the relationship, began to approve of Trumps’ uncompromising approach (although they did not like to pay tariffs).
Since Xi took power and effectively become president for life and tightened Communist Party control over all matters, American journalists working in China have seen their access considerably reduced; China has become more aggressive in projecting its power into the South China Sea; it is increasingly determined to subsidize its high-tech startups to dominate key industries by 2025; it imposes a new national security law to restrict long-standing freedoms in Hong Kong; its intensification of intimidation from Taiwan, adopted a very aggressive approach towards India and intensified its internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang; he imprisoned two innocent Canadians for trading in a detained Chinese businesswoman; and it has even hammered out countries that have dared to request an independent investigation into how the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan.
After the Australian Prime Minister called for such an investigation in April, the Chinese ambassador to Australia brazenly threatened economic reprisals, and a few weeks later, China cut companies’ imports of beef and barley. Australian women, alleging false health and trade violations.
It was the kind of rude bullying that helped strip China of virtually all of its allies it had in Washington for a policy that basically said: We have different systems, but build bridges with China if possible, engage where it is mutually beneficial and draw red lines if necessary.
This balanced political approach always had to contain serious tension, ugliness and disagreement over issues, but in the end it offered enough mutual benefits to be sustained for 40 years. This balance is now upset for many Americans. I am one of them.
As Orville Schell, one of the most sensible advocates of this balanced approach, wrote in an essay a few weeks ago on TheWireChina.com: Today, as the United States faces its state on More contradictory with the People’s Republic of China for years, the still fragile political framework of the engagement looks like an exhausted case. A recent Pew poll shows that only 26% of Americans view China favorably, the lowest percentage since its surveys began in 2005.
But if China has exceeded more and more, America has increasingly underperformed.
It is not only that China would have less than 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 and that America would have more than 120,000 and that the virus started there. It’s not only that it takes about 22 hours on Amtrak to go from New York to Chicago, while it takes 4.5 hours to take the high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, a little further away. It is not only that the pandemic has accelerated the transformation of China into a cashless digital society.
Is that we have reduced investment in the real sources of our strength infrastructure, education, government funded scientific research, immigration and the right rules to encourage productive investment and prevent risk taking excessive. And we have stopped taking advantage of our greatest advantage over China: we have allies who share our values and China has only customers who fear its anger.
If we meet with our allies, we could collectively influence China to accept new trade rules and COVID-19 and a whole host of other issues. But Trump refused to do so, making an entire bilateral deal or a fight with Xi. So now China is offering dear offers to the United States and other foreign companies to enter or stay in China, and its market is now so large that few companies can resist.
Summing up the relationship today, McGregor of APCO Worldwide noted: I don’t know if the Chinese take America more seriously. They are happy to let us continue to damage us. We have to wake up and grow and find our own act and our allies together. China respects only one thing: leverage. Today, we have too few and China has too many.
Thomas L Friedman c. 2020 The New York Times Company