Trump prepares to pass the world leadership baton to China

March 19, 2017

Trump prepares to pass the world leadership baton to China

by Fareed Zakaria

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We do not yet have the official agenda for next month’s meeting in Florida between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But after 75 years of U.S. leadership on the world stage, the Mar-a-Lago summit might mark the beginning of a handover of power from the United States to China. Trump has embraced a policy of retreat from the world, opening a space that will be eagerly filled by the Communist Party of China.

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Trump railed against China on the campaign trail, bellowing that it was “raping” the United States. He vowed to label it a currency manipulator on his first day in office. But in his first interaction with Beijing, he caved. Weeks after his election, Trump speculated that he might upgrade relations with Taiwan. In response, Xi froze all contacts between Beijing and Washington on all issues, demanding that Trump reverse himself — which is exactly what happened. (Perhaps just coincidentally, a few weeks later, the Chinese government granted the Trump Organization dozens of trademark rights in China, with a speed and on a scale that surprised many experts.)

The Trump administration’s vision for disengagement from the world is a godsend for China. Look at Trump’s proposed budget, which would cut spending on “soft power” — diplomacy, foreign aid, international organizations — by 28 percent. Beijing, by contrast, has quadrupled the budget of its foreign ministry in the past decade. And that doesn’t include its massive spending on aid and development across Asia and Africa. Just tallying some of Beijing’s key development commitments, George Washington University’s David Shambaugh estimates the total at $1.4 trillion, compared with the Marshall Plan, which in today’s dollars would cost about $100 billion.

China’s growing diplomatic strength matters. An Asian head of government recently told me that at every regional conference, “Washington sends a couple of diplomats, whereas Beijing sends dozens. The Chinese are there at every committee meeting, and you are not.” The result, he said, is that Beijing is increasingly setting the Asian agenda.

The Trump administration wants to skimp on U.S. funding for the United Nations. This is music to Chinese ears. Beijing has been trying to gain influence in the global body for years. It has increased its funding for the U.N. across the board and would likely be delighted to pick up the slack as the United States withdraws. As Foreign Policy magazine’s Colum Lynch observes, China has already become the second-largest funder of U.N. peacekeeping and has more peacekeepers than the other four permanent Security Council members combined. Of course, in return for this, China will gain increased influence, from key appointments to shifts in policy throughout the U.N. system.

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The first major act of the Trump administration was to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a treaty that would have opened up long-closed economies such as Japan and Vietnam, but also would have created a bloc that could stand up to China’s increasing domination of trade in Asia. The TPP was, in Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s words, “a litmus test” of U.S. credibility in Asia. With Washington’s withdrawal, even staunchly pro-American allies such as Australia are hedging their bets. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has raised the possibility of China joining the TPP, essentially turning a group that was meant to be a deterrent against China into one more arm of Chinese influence.

The United States’ global role has always meant being at the cutting edge in science, education and culture. Here again, Washington is scaling back while Beijing is ramping up. In Trump’s proposed budget, the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the national laboratories face crippling cuts, as do many exchange programs that have brought generations of young leaders to be trained in the United States and exposed to American values. Beijing, meanwhile, has continued to expand “Confucius Institutes” around the world and now offers 20,000 scholarships for foreign students to go to China. Its funding for big science rises every year. The world’s largest telescope is in China, not the United States.

The Trump administration does want a bigger military. But that has never been how China has sought to compete with U.S. power. Chinese leaders have pointed out to me that this was the Soviet strategy during the Cold War, one that failed miserably. The implication was: Let Washington waste resources on the Pentagon, while Beijing would focus on economics, technology and soft power.

Trump’s new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, once remarked that trying to fight the United States symmetrically — tank for tank — was “stupid.” The smart strategy would be an asymmetrical one. The Chinese seem to understand this.

11 thoughts on “Trump prepares to pass the world leadership baton to China

  1. Pingback: Trump Prepares to Pass World Leadership Baton to China | The Most Revolutionary Act

  2. “…H.R. McMaster, once remarked that trying to fight the United States symmetrically — tank for tank — was ‘stupid.’ The smart strategy would be an asymmetrical one. The Chinese seem to understand this.” — Fareed Zakaria

    “The Chinese seem to understand this”? Come on, Fareed, the Chinese invented the asymmetrical warfare. The whole book of Sun Tzu Warfare is about asymmetrical warfare. Do your homework, Fareed. Do you think you were famous in Russia when Putin said you were? Few people in Russia had heard of you until your interview with Putin. Do you really believe when Putin calling you an academic? He was well informed of your plagiarism. Now you are famous in Russia, as a laughingstock. Do your homework, man, don’t be a lazy ass.

    It was this asymmetrical warfare that the Chinese kicked our asses in the Korean War, with far inferior weapons. It was in one of the officers military classes when I was serving, that I learned of how the Chinese volunteer soldiers, without any anti-tank weapons, improvised with ordinary grenades and explosive to take out column and column of our tanks, which they had none. It was the asymmetrical warfare in Vietnam that the invincible Yankees were defeated by little men wearing sandals, straw-hats and pajamas. Again, with much inferior weapons. Besides the A-bomb, what technological advanced weapons had we not used in Vietnam? We even used chemical weapons like Agent Orange. And again, the Chinese were there. The United States did not want to acknowledge it, but everyone who had served in Vietnam knew about it. Their code name was “Big Orientals.”

    The Chinese will not compete with the United States in arm race. They know the importance of technological advanced weapons but they also know it is the men who use them who are more important. They will go with their own time table to develop their own weapons. Moreover, it is cheaper and faster to let the American do the research and development and than just imitate and copy their weapons. According to the Pentagon own assessment, the gap between China and the US is narrowing fast. In some areas the Chinese have already exceeded the American, like artificial intelligence.

    I believe China wants a larger global voice and wants the United States to treat it as equal. But I do not believe China wants to replace the United States as the global hegemon. One thing is very clear, the United States can no longer push China around. The “hide and bide” era is over. The Chinese are ready to face the American head on if pushed too far, and they do not hesitate to tell the American out loud. American military strategists know well they might lose the war if fought in Chinese’ turf because of logistic difficulties, and that any war between the two can go nuclear and both will lose real big. The win-win situation is for American to work with China. The two economies need each other.

    The ball is on the American court. And chicken-hawk Trump, apparently, is softening his tone. Based on the awkward meeting between Trump and Merkel very recently, I simply have a hunch that the proposed meeting between Xi and Trump next month will be delayed as a lesson to Trump: Just because you invite me to come, don’t expect me to come running like Abe the dog. Unless more concessions be made by Trump through the continuing negotiations before the meeting.

    Based from the character and intelligence of the three men, I strongly believe Putin and Xi will shake and bake Trump and eat him for lunch. Trump can be bought easily. All the talks of nationalism of “make America great again” and bringing jobs back to America… blah, blah, blah are all bullshits. Go to You Tube to find his daughter Ivanka’s shoe products are all made in Chinese factories. His son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Chinese company are closing a deal on a real estate property in New York City for $400 million. Very recently China approved another 38 trademark rights to the Trump organization and Trump sent his yes-man Tillerson to China to invite Xi to meet with him, vowing to work with China closely. No one will truly believe a pathological liar, but we can play along his greed and his egocentric to make use of him. Yes, the decline of Americana is now real.

    And yet there are diehard rightists who call Trump “the best thing that happened to America,” quoting articles from Fox News. Surprise they did not quote from Infowars and Breitbart. I did not vote for Trump neither did I vote for Hillary. I saw both as equally evil, bringing America down. In all honesty, I would have voted for Hillary if I were not a Californian. I knew Hillary could take California anyway. I wanted my vote to be registered as a protest to both candidates. When the vast majority of the commentators in this blog betting on Hillary, if anyone remembers, I was a very few saying Trump had a “very good chance” to win. That was because I was not from the outside looking in nor the inside looking out, I was looking around and saw the changing mood in the swinging states. Boy, I hate it when I was right this time. America I love is doomed. Should Hillary have won she might be able to prolong a few more years and I don’t have to see the decline of America in my lifetime. Now, apparently, I’ll live to see the decline of America before I go.

    A couple of days ago I read Bro Din said the game is over in Malaysia. And I agree with his take that the game is over in Malaysia. I have long conceded democracy in Malaysia is the poorer for it. But America is very different. I still have a tinge of hope that the American people will come to their consciousness very soon to take back the country from this evil idiot Trump to stop the acceleration of the decline of the country. In any case, America is no longer the number one country in the world. We may have to share the global power with China, or Russia, too.

    • 1) In the early 1980s when China first opened up and sent scholars to the USA, my housemate (a surgeon from Beijing) told me that Chinese troops manned the SAM anti-aircraft missile sites over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
      So, John McCain was probably shot down by Chinese troops.

      2) According to the experts, narcissists can be manipulated. One way would be to flatter and flatter them. Probably Putin is already manipulating Trump (and having the latter eat out of his hands?).
      Narcissists typically treat their “social inferiors” with disdain and contempt, treat their equals with hostile jealousy, and suck up to people “higher up” than them.

    • Yes, Dr Phua, that’s why Trump never dares to antagonize Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Once he said something which upset Buffett to speak out, and Trump immediately backed-off and shut-up, behaving like an obedient little boy. Trump is rich but not as rich as he says. His company is still a privately owned company, not a publicly traded enterprise.

  3. World leadership… I doubt if this expression will sit well with Chinese understanding… why would they want to lead the world? The writer has got it wrong…

  4. Quote:- “How to antagonise friends (and delight your enemies ?) ”

    That’s because your friends don’t respect you and your enemies’ self-serving praises soothes the ego.

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