Opinion/Analysis: Trump Should Copy Reagan and End Détente — with China

President Trump seems resigned to the expectation that China will be of no help in resolving the North Korea challenge. That he (and his predecessors) ever believed otherwise is the most salient evidence of the consensus by successive U.S. administrations that a soft touch toward the People’s Republic of China is in order because it is a growing, influential power. Soon, so the argument goes, the PRC will be the largest economy in the world and an able military power, capable of altering outcomes in ways detrimental to the United States. The U.S. must avoid confrontation lest this burgeoning power react in kind. Wrong. It’s the same thinking — yes, in a quite different context and time — that led earlier presidents to accept accommodation with the USSR during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan recognized that the policy benefited the Soviet Union and that Moscow was in no position to dictate terms once pressure was applied. President Trump should take this approach toward the PRC. Doing so would lead to a more cooperative China. There are several manifestations of America’s 21st-century détente policy toward Beijing beside Washington’s failure to hold Beijing to account over its rogue client regime in Pyongyang. These include the tepid U.S. response to China’s outlandish claims of sovereignty in the East and South China Seas, and Washington’s overall reluctance to acknowledge and counter Beijing’s growing military capabilities; complete silence as the PRC has violated at least the spirit if not the letter of its agreements to let Hong Kong develop with its own political system since the British handover in 1997; and the snubs, by presidents of both parties, to democratic Taiwan in ways large and small, to avoid irking China. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on China policy so far. The president-elect’s call to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and near-mocking of the PRC when it stole a U.S. Navy drone during the post-election transition have been supplanted by the president’s apparent desperation to be liked by China’s president and by his declaration in a media interview that his very presence in office caused China to end the currency manipulation of which Candidate Trump had accused Beijing. In the aftermath of Pyongyang’s abuse and murder of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, the president tweeted plaintively that he appreciates that President Xi tried to help with North Korea — with no apparent indication that Xi did any such thing — but that the assistance isn’t working. The administration’s most persistent point of contention with Beijing is the U.S. trade deficit with China. Otherwise, it appears that the only consistency in the administration’s China policy is inconsistency. But a tough, even confrontational U.S. across the policy spectrum is needed. Beijing’s foreign-policy belligerence is meant to distract from its internal social and economic problems. This posture will moderate if it is met firmly by the U.S. and our Asian allies.

Agreed..   To read the rest of this insightful op/ed by Therese Shakeen, click on the text above.

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