Pompeo threatens China with a new cold war.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech on China at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library Thursday in Yorba Linda, California.
David McNew / Getty Images

If you have any doubts that the Trump administration embarked on a Cold War policy against China that was just as hostile as the American stance towards the Soviet Union at the height of this confrontation, check out the speech from the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Thursday at the Richard Nixon. Library.

Referring to the kind of speech Nixon himself gave in the 1950s (during his red-hunting days, before the Beijing opening), he calls for ending engagement with China, rolling back his emerging empire and rallying the Chinese people to overthrow their regime.

Combined with other recent speeches by Trump officials and a number of actions by Trump himself, this amounts to a call for war. But it is a senseless cry – implausible, impractical and reckless of the damage that further escalation will inflict on our own country and its allies.

Parts of Pompeo’s speech, detailing the growing dangers posed by the Chinese Communist Party, are on site. During Xi Jinping’s reign, the CCP regularly took control of every national institution, suppressed dissent, imprisoned a million Uyghur Muslims, militarized the South China Sea beyond its internationally recognized borders, exploited trade agreements, stole intellectual property and infiltrated the West with spies.

But what should we do about it? Pompeo says there is nothing at do except cut China. The engagement with China, sought by every president starting with Nixon, has been a “failure,” he says. The CCP has not changed its color since the time of Mao Zedong. The confrontation is not only America against China, but freedom against totalitarianism. The solution is to push the forces of freedom – the oppressed people – inside China, and call on other nations to do the same.

It’s a fantasy, and dangerous, on many levels.

First, neither Trump nor Pompeo are in a strong position to take a high moral stance. Nothing Trump has done to American citizens comes close to the oppression that Xi inflicted on Uyghurs or Hong Kong, but Trump hasn’t talked much about Hong Kong and, according to John Bolton, put it all, he gave Xi a thumbs up. about sticking the Uyghurs in the concentration camps. In any case, the world shows no interest in following the moral dictates of an administration that puts migrant children in cages or shoots tear gas at the mothers of peaceful protesters. Legendary diplomat George Kennan, architect of America’s Cold War containment policy, once said: “It is mainly for example, never by precept, that a country like ours exerts its most useful influence in the world. – beyond its borders. By this standard, Trump fails the test; no one, in China or elsewhere, will take his agitations or those of Pompeo seriously.

Second, Trump and Pompeo are not holding out strategic ground either. It is not a good idea for America’s top diplomat to issue existential threats against a nation that owns $ 1 trillion in our debt and serves as the primary – in some cases the only – source of so many consumer goods. , including medical products. The latter could be particularly useful during a pandemic, which will likely be defeated, if at all, thanks to a global effort. True, over the years, American politicians and businesses have rushed too much into the Chinese market to take advantage of its cheap labor (for imports) and massive growth (for exports), and we have become too dependent as a result. COVID-19 lockdowns have increased awareness of this problem, and in response, many manufacturers are diversifying their supply chains where possible. This is a good thing, both to reduce our vulnerability to trade wars and to rebalance geopolitical scales. But there is no way to cut China completely from our economy.

Third, Pompeo’s remarks will not help advance Chinese democracy. Rather, Xi will likely invoke the speech to criticize – and further persecute – dissidents and Democratic activists in mainland China and Hong Kong as U.S.-backed saboteurs.

Most Chinese might even believe the accusation, as Trump’s harsh rhetoric and trade war has already inflamed anti-American sentiment.

Fourth, Pompeo displays no real understanding of what has happened in China over the past 50 years. He claims that the engagement failed and that the CCP has not changed since Mao’s time. It is simply absurd. Yes, China has extended or broken some of the rules it agreed to follow when the West let it into the World Trade Organization and other institutions. But he also adopted many of these rules. He changed hundreds of practices to join the WTO. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which it created as an alternative to the World Bank, follows global financial standards. The CCP itself is no longer a party of purely communist ideology, as it was under Mao, but rather a nation-building tool. True, Xi used the party to strengthen his own power, but Pompeo is wrong to say that he is propagating “a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.” Millions of Chinese citizens lifted out of abject poverty – as well as the leaders of many developing countries in search of a role model to emulate – regard today’s China as a success story.

Which leads to the last problem with Pompeo’s speech: it offers no idea how to stave off China’s challenge to the West – and it is a challenge. He mentions the possible rallying of NATO allies to the cause, but offers no reason why they should join us. (Several allies followed Trump’s lead in banning Huawei software from their 5G systems, but that was because intelligence agencies in the United States and Western Europe – who still have After his speech, during a period question and answer moderated by conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt, Pompeo hailed Russia as a potential great ally against China, saying nothing of Vladimir Putin’s indulgence for the same sins – violating human rights and threatening American democracy – for which he condemns the CCP. Again, no one will take this speech seriously; the next time Putin and Xi speak, they will risk laughing.

China is making inroads in the world, in large part because the United States offers no attractive alternatives. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which President Barack Obama signed with 11 other heads of state, could have been a powerful bulwark against China’s expansive trade policies, but Trump withdrew from the deal. (The other countries made their own trade deal, minus the US; it had some effect, but not as much as the larger version would have.) Trump sent aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to challenge Xi’s land claims, but what if Xi pushes back? What will he do if Xi born repel? Our Asian allies want American leadership. Many heads of state who have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative are upset by its harsh conditions; they’d rather sign something with us, but Trump has nothing to give them.

Trump appears to have given up on any engagement with China, even though the two countries share a range of common interests. He hasn’t spoken in quite a while of going beyond Phase 1 of the trade deal that was once a big talking point in his re-election campaign, until he turned to the blame China for all its evils. Over the past month, ahead of Pompeo’s speech, three other administration officials – National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray – delivered speeches on the Chinese threat, each surpassing the others in its harsh rhetoric. This week, Trump shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston, calling it a nest of spies (which it may be, as are many consulates in many countries) – prompting China to shut down the US consulate in Chengdu , which had allowed US diplomats distribution in the provinces of Sichuah, Yunan and Guizhou, as well as in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The net gain for American interests? Zero, maybe negative.

“I don’t see any strategy,” said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked about Pompeo’s speech and Trump’s policy toward China in general. “It’s slash and burn at this point… just a punishment for the punishment.”

China will not go away, and the CCP is not about to dissolve, and nothing Trump or any other Western leader does will change that. As other presidents have recognized, US policy towards China today must contain a mixture of commitment and control. The trick is to find the right mix. Trump has given up on the game, and growling lectures like Pompeo’s won’t work by magic.

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