Is America ready for a cold war with China?

Walter Russell Mead is on to something when he writes Americans aren't ready for Cold War II with China.  His basic reasoning is this.  As the relaxed posture the U.S. has taken toward China in the past is changed into prolonged competition, there are many imponderables that people might not be ready for.

How will the competition affect Americans in their daily lives — through economic protectionism, surveillance or military mobilization? How will it change the technology and higher-education sectors? What impact will cyber technology and other forms of asymmetric warfare have on the balance of power? Will the deep economic ties between the countries soften diplomatic and military competition — or sharpen it?

All that's true, which is to say there are a lot of questions.  But it is also true that for years, the U.S. foreign affairs establishment along with the media has misled the public as the true nature of China.  Ever since Bill Clinton threw open the door of the American market to the Chinese, China has been presented as a legitimate trading partner.  The implication was that China played by the rules.  Because of this and the veneer of free markets that Beijing covered itself with, the average American wasn't fully aware that China wasn't actually a democracy.  It was (and still very much is) a repressive communist dictatorship.  Referring to the People's Republic of China as Red China was considered a serious faux pas and edited out of media reports.

Official national emblem of the People's Republic of China (source).

The ascendency of Donald Trump gave voice to millions of "deplorables" who knew exactly what China was.  Now, China's mercantilist aggression and massive theft of U.S. intellectual property can no longer be swept under the rug.  Regardless of how loud the special-interest groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the large multinational corporations scream "free trade," the Chinese mask has been ripped off.  So, although it will take some time for other Americans to adjust to the inevitable bumps in the road that come with defending the country against Chinese aggression, adjust they will.  Evidence for this comes from the support Trump is getting on the China front from the Democrats, Joe Biden notwithstanding. 

Confronting China has wide bipartisan support.  Perhaps this is best personified by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader.  Last month, when President Trump ramped up tariffs on China, Sen. Schumer tweeted: "Hang tough on China, Mr. President. Don't back down. Strength is the only way to win with China."  Mr. Schumer sometimes sound almost Trumpian where referring to Chinese trade practices, calling them "predatory" and saying Beijing is an "unfair competitor" that "bends and breaks the rules."

And Nancy Pelosi, House majority leader, is a longtime hawk on China.  The disagreements Democrats have with President Trump's approach to China are tactical rather than strategic.  Even on the tactical level, Donald Trump is playing America's strong hand brilliantly.  Virtually everyone now sees that China has been behaving badly — everyone, that is, except those who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo with China.  With them, it's as Upton Sinclair wrote: "You can't get a man to understanding something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it."

Speaking of which, many of the loudest critics of the president taking on China with tariffs are in the Republican establishment.  They continue to chant "free trade, free trade" as if it were the summum bonum.  These free traders are joined at the hip with the globalists.  Neither ever acknowledged that the China trade was never fair, nor how it devastated America's industrial base.  On this latter point, they probably didn't care, drunk as they were on their Adam Smith dogma.  But the circle is tightening on the so-called free traders, and they are left with defending a politically untenable position.

The paradigm on China has changed in a matter of just a few years.  Even when Mr. Trump leaves office, things will not reset to the Clinton-Bush-Obama era. Back then, whenever Chinese transgressions were delicately brought up, the Chinese would politely smile, agree to change, but then go right back to what they were doing.  Those days are over.  America is now woke.

So yes, Professor Mead, all of America is not ready for a cold war with Red China just yet, but it is quickly getting there.