A frequent sin of conservative governments is throwing away what they have achieved domestically by making major foreign policy blunders. That danger now looms over President Trump’s government. His domestic agenda is successful. The economy is booming, new conservative judges are sitting on important benches and Left-wing regulations are being rolled back. In the recent elections, a blue wave was met by an equal red wave. The result was a normal off-year election for the party holding the White House, except the Republicans gained seats in the Senate. There was no repudiation of President Trump or his agenda.
All this is now being put at risk because of the administration’s China policy. President Trump has been right to challenge China on trade issues. Free trade on our part has allowed a mercantilist China to hollow out our industry, depriving Americans of millions of good paying jobs. China regularly steals intellectual property and forces American companies to turn over trade secrets if they wish to do business with China. All this should have been challenged by previous presidents, Republican and Democrat. Their failures to act left President Trump to deal with the whole mess. To his credit, he is doing so.
But that does not mean we want a generally hostile relationship with China. On the contrary, friendship between China, Russia, and the United States is of central importance in confronting the Fourth Generation threat, the danger of state failure and collapse that will define the 21st century. At stake is the state system itself, and a new Triple Alliance of the three Great Powers is essential to maintaining a world of states. The alternative is anarchy.
American policy should seek to separate trade from other issues, confronting China on the former while stressing cooperation in all other fields. Regrettably, that does not appear to be where the administration is headed. As the New York Times reported on November 19, “From Mr. Trump’s tweets to defense position papers and a major speech by Mr. Pence on Oct. 4, the United States has made clear that it sees China as a strategic threat.” That is a blunder of the first order.
The worst of it, so far at least, is that the U.S. is raising the old Taiwan issue. The administration cut off aid to several central American countries that withdrew diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and established relations with the People’s Republic of China (Beijing). The White House has been making noises indicating we could strengthen our relationship with Taiwan, including militarily. This is playing with fire.
China can compromise on other matters, even her claims to the South China Sea. But she cannot compromise on Taiwan. I fear Washington does not understand why that is the case.
Throughout Chinese history, the greatest threat to China has always been internal disunion, break-up into warring states. This happened over and over again, most recently in the 1920s and 1930s. Every time it occurs, millions of Chinese die, civil war plunges China into renewed poverty and foreigners take advantage of China’s weakness to invade. Every Chinese person knows this history, and any Chinese government that hopes to have legitimacy must make it clear that preventing such disunion is its top priority.
The danger Taiwan poses is that it is a Chinese province. Both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang agree on that. If one province, Taiwan, can gain independence from China, so can others. Beijing cannot allow that precedent to be established. It is an existential threat, and China must and will go to the wall to prevent it. If that means war with the United States, China has to fight that war.
The Pentagon may think that a naval and air war with China will be an easy win. China is highly vulnerable to a distant naval blockade. But if the U.S. Navy were to intervene directly in an attempt to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, our losses could be severe. China has developed long-range ballistic missiles that can hit aircraft carriers, or at least come close enough to them, with nuclear warheads, they can either sink them or, with EMP blasts, fry all their electronics and render them floating scrap metal. Such losses would mark the end of American naval dominance. Worse yet, because Taiwanese independence is an existential threat to China, if China were losing at sea and in the air, she would feel immense pressure to escalate to the strategic nuclear level.
It is not too late for the administration to separate trade from other issues, continue to confront China on the former while acting to restore good relations in other areas. Even the trade problem has an obvious solution: managed trade, where the U.S. and China agree on what each is to buy from the other so that the balance of payments is roughly even. China has made some offers along these lines. We can and should encourage them to do so until we can agree on the specifics.
Throughout the 20th century, conservative governments around the world overreached in foreign policy, got into wars that did not go well and ended up in disasters that put the Left in power at home. I hope President Trump is aware of that history.
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.