Trump, China, and the axis of evil

For a long time we imagined China’s rise would be its growing up — into a mature member of responsible world society. But now that society itself is looking ever more ragged, its norms of civilized behavior being shredded by Saudis, Russians, Iranians, and others — including indeed America — as well as China. China epitomizes the badness of the bad old days, a regime exerting muscle to get its way abroad and to repress its own citizens at home. (China employs two million people censoring the internet; has put maybe a million in “re-education” camps.) Not the better new world we’d hoped was a’borning.

An editorial in The Economist’s October 20 issue said the Trump administration is right to step up what had really previously been a weak response to China’s sharp elbows; right to recognize that China’s interests (actually, its regime’s) conflict with ours, and that it’s a bad actor needing to be confronted and opposed.

But in that battle, despite all his bluster, Trump — so besotted with military strength — is unilaterally disarming us. He’s “a bull in a China shop,” whose actions actually boost China.

The first thing he did was to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which had been our most forceful response to China’s challenge. It was a carefully built deal among eleven key nations to set the regional terms of trade to our advantage, blocking China’s aim for economic dominance. When Trump threw that away, the rulers in Beijing celebrated and guffawed, unable to believe their luck.

Then Trump’s trade war hurts America more than it hurts China, weakening our economy by reducing our own exports while making stuff we buy more expensive.

But here is the bigger picture. China has four times our population. Contending with China requires strong solidarity among the alliance of Western-oriented democracies. America actually had the world’s greatest-ever network of global friends. Until Trump came along, showering those alliances with contempt and doing all he could to wreck them. As if we can take on China all by ourselves.

Meantime China itself isn’t so stupidly blind to the need for alliances, assiduously working to build its own such network. Which China does through bullying, intimidation, bribery, throwing its money and its weight around. Which, unsurprisingly, countries actually resent. Whereas America had true friends — nations standing with us because they shared our positive values.

Those values and ideals won the cold war. Communism stood for a closed society of enforced conformism, a repressive Big Brother state. Not only did our economic model work better, it did so by giving people the opportunities freedom provides, with democracy and human rights — a very attractive package. But that crucial American asset too Trump is throwing away. He neither honors, nor even understands, those idealistic values; instead he actually stomps on them.

When the Saudis sent a 15-strong killer squad to Turkey to dismember a Washington Post journalist, denied any knowledge for two weeks, and then concocted a ludicrous lie about a fistfight (but couldn’t say what happened to the body), Trump initially declared that “credible.” He deemed our selling arms to Saudi Arabia (to brutalize Yemen) more important. And now, with his own intelligence service concluding that the Saudi ruler in fact ordered the murder, Trump dismisses that, calling Saudi Arabia our “steadfast partner.”

Which sends the world a clear message: that America no longer stands for truth, justice, freedom, and human rights. Instead America now stands for a world of might makes right. Where money trumps morality. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with autocrats who commit murder and lie about it.

Who ever imagined America would join the axis of evil?

If the world must choose between an incompetent buffoon of a would-be American autocrat, and the real thing in China, China will win.

 

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