After an extended and unexcused absence, I am back to my own version of PPP – Playing Pretend Pundit. But with the selection (finally) of Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate, there will be a little more to talk about than just the ongoing Trump meltdown.
Look, Trump is flailing and any Schadenfreude I might be enjoying is totally outweighed by sadness and embarrassment at how the US refuses to get a handle on the pandemic. Instead of a slam dunk campaign strategy about maintaining steady leadership in a time of crisis, Trump is, instead, looking for enemies (a/k/a scapegoats). He’s had trouble laying a glove on Biden, and I expect a similar outcome with his attempt to brand Senator Harris as a Socialist (huh?) or the most liberal member of the Senate (again, huh?).
But with China, Trump actually has an argument that makes a lot of sense. Even a fake pundit can learn that China is pretty horrible without too much investigation. COVID-19 did originate in China. The oppression of the Uighars is very real and unacceptably brutal. The country is run by a dictator who has appointed himself as president for life. The proliferation of Chinese technology throughout the infrastructure of our entire digital world creates frightening security compromises.
So, yeah, I get it. China is bad. And Trump’s attempts to align Biden/Harris with China is a strategy that is sensible on its face. There is also recent reporting that China favors Biden/Harris, creating fears of intervention to counter what Russia has done (and is continuing to do) for Trump.
But there is a rather large difference between Russia and China right now. They may be equivalent to the extent that they are run by dictators who permit no dissent. They also both seek dominance on the world stage via technological, biomedical, military and economic means. But Russia has a small economy and there are limited prospects for technological breakthroughs. Russia has military might, but, until Trump, that threat was easily isolated by a world community which looked upon Putin’s totalitarianism with disdain. In fact, the major reason that Russia is even part of an international affairs conversation is because of its influence over Trump.
China, on the other hand, is a legit superpower. China cannot be isolated without major disruptions to the world economy. China’s technological advancement is not slowing down, and totalitarian rule has been great for the economy. When workers have no rights and can be put in jail for any reason, they tend to work cheap and stay productive. Also, China has a tremendous amount of debt obligations owed by the US, so the power to put us in default creates an incredible amount of leverage.
There have been attempts in the past to reign in the human rights abuses. Sanctions seem to be a regular part of the effort, but the truth is that the world economy LOVES the cheap labor, so meaningful change has be ‘elusive.’
In a way, Trump’s bellicose, pre-pandemic rhetoric about China raised the prospect of a new way to engage Beijing’s rapidly increasing world influence. But here is the problem – and I’ve repeated this before – Trump sees only binary power struggles where there is a winner and a loser. Despite the interdependence of world economies that show China cannot be isolated or ‘canceled’, Trump has continued to push “China = bad.” I know, he likes Xi because he admires dictators and despots, but that’s a personal matter. When Trump speaks to Americans, especially now that we are so close to the election, he maintains that “China = bad.”
I agree that the US needs a new approach to China; one that maintains our ideals without rancorous threats and haphazard trade wars. China is a complicated issue in foreign affairs, and neglect over the past two decades has resulted in a very unbalanced relationship.
But it is too simple to just say that Biden is in China’s pocket. Projection, however, is really all Trump does. And since he is in Russia’s pocket, then the projector in chief will continue to project.