The ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” counseled that “he who will win knows when to fight and when not to fight.” For America confronting Sun Tzu’s nation in the great geo-strategic and economic struggle of the 21st century, the time to fight is right now.
A survey of the U.S. vs. China economic relationship over the last several decades reveals a tragic tale of American capitulation. Elites in Washington and multinational corporate boardrooms pursued their own self-enrichment, to the detriment of American workers and U.S. national security. Willingly or not, these cronies elevated the goals of the Chinese Communist Party, which operated a quasi-private cabal of companies intent on plundering American enterprise through cheating and chicanery.
But Donald Trump presented a markedly different vision for America. Our outsider entrepreneur-in-chief grasped intrinsically the unfairness of the economic surrender that our country allowed China to impose upon us. As president, Trump now properly demands that China, if it desires full exposure to the American consumer market, act as a fair and reasonable counterparty. Specifically, China must offer authentic reciprocity in trade, respect our intellectual property, and cease provocative actions such as hacking critical American systems.
Given the current circumstances of China, the present time represents a historic opportunity to advance those goals. To channel Sun Tzu, it’s time to fight.
China presently faces a pronounced internal economic slowdown. Recent data released on cars, for example, reveal that Chinese consumers are retrenching. Specificlly, 2018 was the worst year for auto sales in two decades. Moreover, the deceleration continues in 2019, as May marked the 11th straight month of year-over-year plunging vehicle sales, and the worst month ever reported.
In addition to China’s very salient economic problems, it faces an equally direct challenge on the political front. Over the last week, citizens turned out en masse in Hong Kong to protest plans to extradite criminal defendants to Mainland China. As William McGurn correctly remarked in the Wall Street Journal, “it’s not easy to turn a million prosperous people into political dissidents. But that’s what China might have pulled off in Hong Kong.”
If America has the political will, the Chinese model of mercantilist mendacity will fail. The Chinese have successfully exploited the willingness of American elites to sanction their abuses of our workers, but they have not created a sustainable and free middle class of Chinese citizens. As the economy slows and political opposition accelerates within China, now is precisely the time to press for fairness and reciprocity in the economic relationship between our two nations.
Beyond the key commercial considerations, America should always advocate for human rights and universal values. The Chinese Communist Party must know that the United States stands for the human rights of the Chinese people. Our support now should mirror the U.S. commitment in the 1980s toward the Solidarity movement in Poland.
If President Trump persists with his impressive policies of confronting the Chinese threats to America, his odds of 2020 reelection improve apace. If Joe Biden wins the Democratic Party nomination, I look forward to confronting him on his personal corruption regarding China (and his son’s ties there), plus his reckless analysis about China, insisting that “they’re not bad folks, folks.”
In reality, they are really “bad folks.” We have, sadly, allowed these bad folks to abuse America’s economic and national security for decades. But President Trump sees a different future and, like Sun Tzu, knows the time to fight is right now.