President Donald J. Trump has entered into a tentative deal with the ailing People’s Republic of China to ease the tariffs he had imposed in 2017 on a recalcitrant Beijing. The tentative agreement is specifically meant to help American farmers, who have been hurt by the trade war.
The president and his advisers have long understood that the trade war’s negative impact on American farmers was a weak point in his reelection campaign. After all, most farmers voted for Donald Trump in 2016. He will need their vote in 2020.
As one keen person wrote on social media, “Trump just sold rice to China.” This is how many Trump supporters view the move: a stroke of brilliance. Certainly, it is likely to be a short-term political windfall for the president and a boon for the economy. Plus, the way the tentative deal is structured means that the White House and Beijing’s leaders will have to meet repeatedly to generate more agreements that will further alleviate the damage China has suffered during the trade war. Thus, if the trade deal does not make it beyond the tentatively agreed upon “phase one,” then the agreement will have proven itself to be a stroke of genius on the part of President Trump. If, however, the president decides to continue on the path of trade normalization with China, he will have empowered an existential threat to the United States.
Not All Deals Are Created Equally
Basically, Beijing needs the trading relationship to return to the way it was before Trump began slapping tariffs on China. So, China will need a comprehensive agreement over time. Anything less will spell certain doom for China’s elite.
As it stands, the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rests on a simple social contract made with the Chinese people after Deng Xiaoping abandoned Maoism and embraced state capitalism: in exchange for a monopoly on political power in China, the CCP will give the Chinese people extraordinary levels of prosperity. This deal worked for the last 30 years. About 420 million Chinese citizens were elevated from poverty into a vibrant middle class. If, however, prosperity slows in China, sociopolitical unrest will follow.
The unrest has already begun — which is precisely why China’s president-for-life, Xi Jinping, began cracking down on deviationists throughout China. Xi’s forces have assiduously worked to bring the former British colonial redoubt (and economic powerhouse) of Hong Kong to heel. Beijing has also cracked down on evangelical Christian communities. Its repression of the Falun Gong continues. China’s ethnic Han are increasingly encouraged to move in greater numbers into Tibet in order to turn that region decisively more pro-Beijing.
Meanwhile, China is clearly building up its military in such a way as to threaten the nearby U.S. ally of Taiwan, a country that China has long claimed is nothing more than a “breakaway province.” Then, of course, China engages in the systematic repression of Muslim Uighurs in their westernmost Xinjiang Province. The crackdown involves quartering Chinese political commissars with Muslim families (and those commissars require the Muslim Chinese women in the house to sleep in the same bed as them). In fact, over a million Chinese Muslim Uighurs have been sent to newly constructed “reeducation camps” (in other words, modern concentration camps).
The Real Nazis Are in Beijing
China has always had an authoritarian bent in its governing, going back to the ancient imperial dynasties. The rise of Mao and his Communist Party shifted into extreme totalitarianism. When Mao died and more pragmatic leaders, like Deng, replaced him, the basic political structure remained in place. China’s turn away from Maoism did not make the country into a capitalist society. The embrace of a slightly freer economic model did not imbue China with a freer political system, either. In essence, China married centralized government with big business. Thus, China merely switched from communism to fascism.
All of this is to say that the Trump administration’s attempted trade deal with China cannot become the norm in Sino-American relations. Judging from Trump’s present domestic political opponents, all that can be done to secure his reelection in 2020 must be done. The “phase one” trade deal will likely help to secure Trump’s victory in November of next year. But there can be no “phase two” in trade deals with China. Ever. Just the opposite needs to happen.
The president must tell Beijing (as well as the farmers and Wall Street) whatever they need to hear to keep them happy. But, ultimately, President Trump cannot make long-lasting deals that effectively give the new-age Nazi Party a renewed lease on life. China is on the proverbial ropes, in large part thanks to Trump administration actions (as well as the actions of dissidents within China). Breaking China today must be a priority for the Trump administration. After all, should American leaders today further delay from strangling China geopolitically, they will have only set China up to ultimately overpower the United States when Beijing has more leverage over Washington.
Washington must take the lessons of the previous century to heart: “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough it will eat him last.” Appeasing and empowering a regime that engages in inhuman levels of totalitarian oppression — and has designs to export that model abroad — will ensure America’s defeat. Making a deal with Beijing beyond the proposed “phase one” agreement on trade is a bad move in the long run and will only hurt America.
Appeasement got Britain nowhere when dealing with yesteryear’s Nazis. It will have similar disastrous results with today’s version of nationalist–socialists in China.
Brandon J. Weichert can be reached via Twitter @WeTheBrandon. His book, Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, will be released by Republic Book Publishers in Fall of 2020.