There is a sincere possibility the United States will be engaged in some sort of conflict with China during the next four years. President Trump, with a cabinet of military brass and corporate elites behind him, will likely rev up the engines of oligarchy, thereby inflaming an already tenuous trade relationship between two great superpowers. But with Trump’s tendency to fire off cryptic tweets whenever things fail to go his way, can we rest assured diplomacy will prevail as it has before? With Trump’s penchant for spectacle and bombast, are we confident he won’t use us as props in some unilateral ratings ploy to hide embarassment? China is not a nation to poke with a stick like a hornet’s nest, and for the past seven decades, we have been engaged in some strange round of musical chairs that at any time could end as soon as the music stops. Trump has not the temperament, knowledge, diplomacy, foresight, or compassion to prevent that. In fact, if given the choice between benefiting himself financially and protecting the United States from another international conflict, based on what we’ve seen so far, he likely will choose the former.
No country is more important to us at the moment than China, if for no other reason than its holding our debt. Pick up any item in your house and turn it over. Likely it was made in China with slave labor. That has helped transform the place from a backwoods, dirt-road ancient culture with more bicycles than cars to the bustling epicenter of state capitalism it is today, thanks in large part to 3/4 of House Republicans and President Bill Clinton back in 2000 passing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China. This was, of course, touted as legislation that would increase American prosperity. President Clinton at the time claimed PNTR status would be a “hundred-to-nothing deal for America when it comes to economic consequences.”
It didn’t happen. Instead, it became one in a string of trade deals that shipped American jobs overseas for the promise of higher corporate profits. Senator Bernie Sanders writes in his recent book Our Revolution, “PNTR with China has led to loss of 3.2 million jobs, as American workers have been forced to compete with some of the most desperate workers in the world…The U.S. has racked up a cumulative trade deficit with China of more than $3.7 trillion, and our annual trade deficit with that country has more than quadrupled” (288).
This has placed the U.S. and China on very precarious footing considering we theoretically deplore China’s human rights violations, yet condone low-wage factory jobs that produce everything sold in Walmart. We criticize China for poisoning its environment with choking smog, yet we drag our feet on making the shift to renewable energy at a time China is among the nations converting to solar energy faster than we are. We hold our noses at the fact that for the price of doing business with China we’re compelled to honor its “one-China policy”, thereby tying our hands when it comes to any substantive diplomacy with Taiwan.
Then enter Donald Trump, who won the presidency in part by invoking Democratic stances on bad trade deals like PNTR with China. This endeared him to millions of factory workers who initially responded to Bernie Sanders’s position. Here’s the difference, though: Bernie has been blasting PNTR, NAFTA, CAFTA, and other disastrous trade measures for decades. He also has no vested business interests in them. Trump, on the other hand, is heavily invested in China and other nations not friendly with China or the United States. In fact, according to CNN Money, “Most Donald J. Trump ties are made in China. Some Donald J. Trump suits are also made in China.” Seeing as Trump ran and won with no intention of distancing himself from the corporate empire he created, and realizing his craven desire for influence, we can naturally assume Trump merely stole those democratic talking points to get elected.
Now that he’s been elected, he is forced to defend the rhetoric that could potentially put both his business relationship and our national security at great risk. Calling China an “adversary”, as former Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina did after recently meeting with Trump, is probably not wise regarding a nation that at any time could demand we defray our debt and thrust us into abject collective poverty. This came around the same time Trump spoke with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, believed to be the first conversation between Taiwan and the United States since China pressured America and Taiwan to sever communication back in 1979. Beijing did not react well. Naturally, Trump brushed it off as a mere friendly exchange between one leader congratulating the President-elect. His tweet later indicates otherwise, though, when he stated, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” This, however, continued to worsen matters. Trump referred to Tsai Ing-wen as the “President of Taiwan”, not President on Taiwan”, as the Chinese government insists. Whether this was intentional on Trump’s part or not is debateable.
To compound the problem, Trump just named economics professor Peter Navarro as his economic adviser. Navarro travelled to Taiwan this year after an invitation from Taiwanese ministry of foreign affairs. In a recent Foreign Policy magazine piece, Navarro said Barack Obama’s treatment of Taiwan had been “egregious”. “This beacon of democracy in Asia is perhaps the most militarily vulnerable US partner anywhere in the world.”
Perhaps this provides an explanation for China’s seizing an American underwater drone in the South China Sea a week ago. China warned the highly charged episode “would not be resolved easily”, but a statement from Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, assures it has been: “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the U.U.V. to the United States.”
Would it have been resolved so peacefully under Trump, or would something as seemingly benign as one of his characteristic tweets kick off an international incident between two nuclear powers? This doesn’t bode well for an administration that hasn’t even started yet when dealing with a country that basically owns us. China is not a small player on the world stage by any stretch of the imagination, and angering it–especially unnecessarily to boost one’s ego and scream for attention–is dangerous.
But trade deals and international agreements are one thing. Threats of military escalation are another.
Filmed over two years in the Marshall Islands, Japan, Korea, China and the United States, Australian filmmaker John Pilger’s new documentary The Coming War on China reveals an increase in war footing with China. Pilger shows that more than 400 U.S. military bases encircle China in what one strategist calls “a perfect noose”. Since World War Two and the detonation of the atomic bomb on Japan, the United States has been positioning itself for hegmony over Southeast Asia, in direct oppositon to Chinese sovereignty. As Pilger states in the film’s trailer, “The world is being primed to regard China as a new enemy”, and he draws a parallel between our seventy years of posturing and the rise of a President-elect who seems to have little regard for treaties, decorum, and policy.
The prospect of any kind of war with China, trade or military, is horrifying. At the close of World War Two, only America had nuclear capabilities. Now Russia, the United Kingdom, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and, you guessed it, CHINA have them too. Both world wars relied heavily on the most technologically advanced weaponry of the age. For WWI, it was gas; for WWII it was the nuclear bomb. And throughout history, wars have had some pretty stupid catalysts. It’s not inconceivable Trump’s tweeting digits could place us in some real peril.