by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The hope of U.S. engagement policy was to invite China into an international community based on free trade and mutually beneficial cooperation, ultimately changing China. Yet in the last 40 years, the CCP has become more internally authoritarian, and outwardly China has opened up only to a relatively small degree. At the same time, the U.S. has fully let the CCP enmesh with us and use our free system to its own advantage. Trump accused China of unfair trade, theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, using our freedom of speech and publication to serve the CCP’s propaganda goal, etc. But no American could have ever imagined that the CCP is plotting to ensure four enemies against the U.S. at the same time, a debt crisis to trap us, and even to control our Congress. It is one thing for a nation to strive for greatness and become a power by respecting international rules and treating other nations decently, either as cooperators or competitors; it is another thing to do so by enmeshing with cooperators or competitors not only to take advantage of them but also to undermine them.
Earlier presidential administrations did not ignore the problem; presidential election years were full of rhetoric against China. But everything returned to business as usual with China post-election. Even Trump, despite his strong rhetoric, has considered the interests of big corporations doing business with Huawei. China is now so powerful that whatever penalties the U.S. imposes on the CCP, the CCP could counteract with equal harm. Moreover, to deal with an enemy already enmeshing with us is more difficult than fighting a war on others’ land.
An additional complication: Despite welcome attempts by the Trump administration to separate the CCP from the Chinese people, most of the latter are truly proud of their country’s modernization. This feeling is based on their desire to redress their past humiliations and to regain the past glories by becoming a world power.