The same rhetoric and tactics used by Democrats to fear-monger about Russia are now being used by US President Donald Trump against China, making a confrontation with Beijing all but certain whatever the November election result.
China’s closure of the US consulate in Chengdu over the weekend followed the US order to shut down the PRC consulate in Houston. It was a game of diplomatic tit-for-tat along the same lines as the closures of Russian and US consulates in 2018, which left diplomats of both countries short-staffed.
On Tuesday, Beijing called for “rational communication,” with Foreign Minister Wang Yi appealing for the US to not allow “a few anti-China elements to overturn decades of successful exchanges and cooperation.”
“The US reckless provocation of confrontation and division is so out of touch with the reality that the interests of China and the United States are deeply integrated,” Wang said.
His plea fell on deaf ears in Washington, however. If there were any doubts about the Trump administration’s position, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech last week should have dispelled them. Oh sure, Pompeo didn’t call for regime change in Beijing but a “change of behavior,” but in State Department-speak that’s a distinction without a difference.
“Every nation will have to come to its own understanding of how to protect its national security, its economic prosperity, and its ideals from the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo declared at the Nixon Presidential Library in California.
Interestingly, the last time “tentacles” were brought up by someone in Foggy Bottom was in March 2018, when then-spokeswoman Heather Nauert used it to describe Russia, justify the consulate-closing spree, and argue that the US had no problem taking British accusations against Moscow at face value, no evidence required or necessary.
Neither Pompeo nor the White House seem aware of the irony that the “highly likely” accusations against Russia which drove that particular “tentacle” frenzy had the same origin as the infamous “Steele dossier” that served as the basis of ‘Russiagate’ – namely, the UK and its intelligence apparatus. No doubt a mere coincidence, that.
While the claim of Trump’s “collusion” with Russia failed in that it did not prevent Trump’s election or get him ousted from office – though not for the lack of effort from Democrats and their allies in the media and administrative state – it was a smashing success in one crucial and much-overlooked respect. It pushed Republicans, and Trump himself, to abandon their platform of better relations with Moscow and double down on policies of the previous administration in order to demonstrate he was “tough” on Russia.
Predictably, that did nothing to persuade the Democrats – it only managed to mire Trump some more in what he called the Washington “swamp.” Now the same thing is happening with China.
It is tempting to regard the current round of anti-Chinese measures through the same lens. Trump and the Republicans, by this logic, could be using the same playbook against Joe Biden and the Democrats, ensuring that the US will be set on a collision course with China regardless of who sits in the White House come next January.
Thing is, the Democrats are all too happy to play along. The party’s internal talking points leaked to Axios back in April revealed the DNC would accuse Trump of being soft and weak on China, “rolling over” before Beijing to get a trade deal while ignoring the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ironically, that’s had the effect of hardening Trump’s already hard-line stance on Beijing, and once again showed that quaint things such as facts shall not be allowed to interfere with the pursuit of political power.
Both parties suffer from Cold War nostalgia – Republicans for the days of Ronald Reagan, Democrats for the unipolar moment seized by Bill Clinton at the conflict’s end. What they’re both missing is that Richard Nixon may deserve far more credit for how things panned out, with his shrewd 1972 move to woo China away from the Soviet Union, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern recently argued.
Nixon, however, has been vilified at home for the ‘Watergate’ shenanigans – which pale in comparison with Barack Obama’s DOJ and FBI spying on the Trump campaign – so his foreign policy achievements have ended up blacklisted as well. As a result, the US has reversed course and pushed Beijing and Moscow closer together than they’ve ever been.
The permanent bureaucracy in Washington is now rubbing its hands with glee at the prospect of a Reagan-style military build-up, which they believe is what “won” the Cold War – unaware that the strategic situation has changed and the side being “spent into oblivion” will be their own.
By Nebojsa Malic