Will the Real Winner be China?
Cheered on by the media, presumptuous Democrats are already popping the corks and picking out the drapes for the Oval Office, giddy that more than 70 million Republican voters will be handed their red caps and shown the door.
Not so fast. Upended state election protocols, systemic machine software glitches, Stalinistic vote count irregularities, and ballot deliveries in the dead of night are not always enough to snatch victory from defeat. Fighting against the Tammany Hall playbook may be challenging, but each day brings a stronger indication that a reversal of fortune is forthcoming.
On the other side of the world, a gentleman sporting a thick bootblack pompadour and a disarming smirk nonetheless considers the prospect of an upper hand in the American presidency. Xi Jinping has wagered this bet by hook into Wall Street, media moguls, show business, and academia, and by crook through the gluttony and hubris emblematic of some of America’s most powerful political families.
The Chinese are the epitome of patience, measuring history in eras and dynasties going back four millennia. They have fought hundreds of wars, almost all of them internal and tribal, conveying valuable lessons on warfighting and the use of intelligence to defeat rivals of far greater strength and resources by turning those attributes against them. Their spoken language and artistic ideographs are incomprehensible to most outsiders and vexing even to scholars of the Orient. Simple words, such as shi, seem repartee spoken with a smile, but describe military and diplomatic schemes crafted to discredit or eliminate an opponent. So long as we view China through a Western aperture, we will continue to overvalue their assurances while their ill intentions go unnoticed.
China and its sole governing entity, the China Communist Party (CCP), reign over a global empire, although not in the conventional sense of land holdings. At its height, proud Britons claim that the sun never set on their dominion. China’s empire is asymmetric, built upon the conscription of world leaders in finance, government, and the media, and the use of rapacious trade practices, intellectual piracy, and espionage. Much of this predation eludes the five senses.
Historians point out that China began to chip away at American global superiority in the Nixon era, starting with the first overture to open China to the West. The world was entangled in a Cold War and China’s common border, nuclear capability, and blossoming military posed an existential threat to the Russians.
Nixon viewed the Sino-Soviet border as a northern front in Asia that broke Leonid Brezhnev’s concentration on the United States and Western Europe. America began courting the Maoists in 1972, creating a pipeline to provide the expertise and hardware needed to boost its military, technology, and economic health. To this day, China cultivates sympathy and handouts from the West, assuring wealthy nations and world banks that continued financial and technical assistance will lead to the opening of their markets. It is a gambit well-played. Linger a step back from any tangible reforms while offering glimmers of hope to your benefactors. This Nixonian notion of appeasement to China has since dumbed down the foreign policy of Western intelligence agencies, bow-tied GS-15s at the State Department, and every American president.
Gerald Ford stayed the Nixon course and became the second president to visit China in 1975. When Mao died in 1976, Ford heaped praise upon a man whose Great Leap Forward had snuffed out the lives of tens of millions of Chinese. In 1979, Jimmy Carter, just a pair of blue jeans away from the peanut farm, signed an accord with the People’s Republic, giving them full diplomatic recognition. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan lifted trade restrictions and increased sales of military equipment. In response to the crackdown of a pro-democracy student movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, George H.W. Bush withheld some military aid as a weak alternative to economic sanctions.
In 1996, Bill Clinton drew criticism for his approval to transfer secret nuclear missile and satellite technology to China. After subpoenaed records disappeared and his Commerce secretary died in a Bosnian plane crash, the scandal faded from the headlines. He followed up by normalizing trade relations and opened the door for China’s historic integration into the World Trade Organization while overlooking the issues of nuclear proliferation and human rights.
Bush 43 toed the family line but lost the automotive industry to a massive influx of Chinese auto parts brought on by low labor costs and Beijing industry controls. Other American companies were battered by cheap knockoffs, but Bush refused tariffs on China imports in the belief that China was continuing to liberalize its policies. Barack Obama, a globalist eager to diminish America’s position on the world stage, bent a knee to the U.S.-Sino relationship and visited China within a year of his election. When he campaigned for the rise of China, Beijing took advantage of his idealism, slapped down his climate change goals, and began an aggressive military expansion in the South China Sea.
A half century of missing the head fake has finally brought China to box us into the turnbuckle. In addition to decades of private sector and government technology, weapons and industrial transfers, America flung open its campus gates to Chinese students. Today, upwards of 370,000 Chinese full-time undergrads and exchange technologists have flooded America’s most prestigious universities and research institutions. They return home with bits and pieces of advanced military and industrial technology that can be readily assembled to replicate everything from aircraft carriers to socks.
Donald Trump has been a bull in a China shop for Xi Jingping and the CCP, knocking them back on their heels over their human rights record, international law violations, and intellectual property theft. Throwing the American lot behind Hong Kong, he has ratcheted up import tariffs on Chinese goods, unwound unfair trade agreements, and turned back a policy of globalization that used American largesse to pay for the ills of the world. Trump is a departure from the rollover presidents that Beijing has come to expect and is viewed as calculating, strategic, and a master tactician. No surprise that American corporatists in the deep pockets of the Jinping regime see the relationship as deteriorating under Trump, who is making long-overdue adjustments to the mercantile scales that will benefit both countries.
All of this was before the pandemic.
The Wuhan virus has been of great utility to the American left, landing in the middle of a presidential election campaign, unraveling a robust economy, and opening doors to an unprecedented level of political chicanery that has subverted a presidential election outcome. China’s early reaction was peculiar, cloaking a virological lab release by its proximity to a nearby wet market, immediately ejecting foreign scientists, medical experts, and journalists from the country, covering its tracks through the WHO, facilitating global spread through airline travel while locking down their own people, and hoarding medical supplies and protective equipment. The devastating impact on democracies and world markets, particularly in the United States, smacks more of calculation and political dead reckoning than chance.
Giving China a leg up has eroded a century of American global dominance. Using deception cloaked as diplomacy, the CCP has turned five decades of American rapprochement into a superpower status. The renowned China scholar Michael Pillsbury points out in his prescient book The Hundred-Year Marathon that a 100-year plan to achieve world hegemony was hatched at the advent of the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Xi Jinping is now poised to make that goal a personal legacy, bringing home the prize thirty years ahead of schedule and at little cost to their communist ways, trade practices, and continued oppression of human rights.
The stakes are high for America’s future if Trump is robbed of a second term and a crucial trade victory denied. If Joe Biden is gifted a seat in the Oval Office, it will be by means fouler than anyone, including the Founding Fathers, thought possible. He will play a Manchurian candidate for whom a vintage movie script could not have been more carefully written.