Thank God it’s Friday.
This weekend, let’s all take a nice, refreshing break from seeing the North Korea summit as a disturbing victory for Kim Jong-un and reflect upon it as an arguably-even-more-disturbing victory for Xi Jinping.
Having long sought a suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises that President Trump has now opted to suspend, China has gotten exactly what it wants out of the summit.
Then again, by now, China must be used to getting exactly what it wants from the Trump administration.
The bitter ironies of the Trump era are like a bowl of potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. So I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of screeching, two-wheel U-turns made by the administration even as it is screaming “pedal to the metal, straight ahead!” But it’s got to be in the top five:
Having run in large part as a candidate who would halt the rise of demon China, Trump has done nothing but fuel it.
Just a few Crayola-clear examples:
Trump rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to check the economic power of China by organizing its neighbors into a counterweight.
Yes, Bernie Sanders opposed TPP, and in the end Hillary Clinton pretended she did too – but even had a Trump opponent taken the same tack as Trump on this one item, he or she would not have done so in disastrously China-boosting combination with so many other things.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord – and governs, of course, at the behest of a group that would love to pull the U.S. out of the whole climate-change kit and caboodle.
Talk about irony. This has allowed China, a country infamous for the black skies of Beijing, to seize the lead on environmental issues. Wholly apart from the environment – and even from the growing economic activity generated by environmental concerns – this spells real geopolitical trouble. The Chinese regime perpetually strives for two aims: total authoritarian control at home, and prestige abroad. This has traditionally been a difficult balance for the Chinese to strike, but Team Trump has made it a whole lot easier. By ceding climate change, the U.S. has handed the Chinese the perfect opportunity to gain international status and influence without ceding a drop of domestic control.
Nor is environmental science the only science that matters here – not by a very long shot. For reasons too irrational to be called “reasons,” the U.S. has decided to treat brain drain as a national goal. Perpetually underfunding higher education; constantly placing long-term research at the mercy of short-term politics; hassling and harassing foreign-born scientists who want to study or work in the U.S. and thus hampering any collaborations they may undertake with their U.S. counterparts; demonizing intellectual elites as enemies of the average American rather than as catalysts for the employment of millions of average Americans…this country, as enthusiastically embodied by this administration, has chosen to make itself more and more hostile to science and scientists alike. Meanwhile, China is making itself more and more welcoming. Back in February, the National Science Board predicted that Chinese investment in research and development would overtake U.S. investment by the end of 2018. On June 3, the Washington Post ran an article entitled “China Increasingly Challenges American Dominance of Science,” in which a Spanish-born, Yale-trained researcher gave a simple explanation for why he is currently Beijing-based: “Right now, China is the best place in the world to start your own laboratory.” Meanwhile, the White House has yet to so much as hire a science advisor, though one shudders to imagine whom they’d get.
Resource-poor China didn’t need Trump to push it toward resource-rich Africa, where it has been building commercial and political relationships for years. But the president’s signature blend of racism and isolationism do not exactly point that continent toward an American alternative. In the 1980's, the U.S. treated South Africa as a key ally, to the point of treating apartheid far too leniently for far too long. Today, China is the number one trading partner of South Africa, toward which the Trump administration has recently taken two actions: slapped it with tariffs and threatened to cut aid.
Meanwhile, the greatest Sinophile on earth could not object to an American president who brought all the aggregate strength of this nation and its allies to bear against such Chinese practices as dumping, intellectual piracy, and unfair labor practices. Instead, this American president has turned his ire on Canada and the E.U.
With all this, why bother mentioning Ivanka’s patents or the bizarre coddling of ZTE?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Chinese jig. But I do know that these days, Xi Jinping is doing it.