A ‘hinge moment’ in U.S.-China relations

His suggested headline:

In their ninth and final official meeting in Lima in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, “We meet at a hinge moment in the China-U.S. relationship.”

The Chinese president was probably right to be concerned. “When it comes to the idea of getting tough on China,” says Evelyn Cheng of CNBC, “Donald Trump is looking more and more serious.”

Trump’s presidential election victory has likely caught China off-guard, and the U.S. President-elect has made a series of bold and assertive moves toward Beijing since Nov. 8, starting with a telephone conversation between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and the U.S. president-elect.

The controversial call on Dec. 2 was the first direct talk between a U.S. president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since Washington broke official diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979. The 10-minute Tsai-Trump call, writes J. Michael Cole of the Diplomat, “has sparked reactions worldwide, ranging from consternation at Trump’s breaking with longstanding policy to hopes for deeper relations between the United States and the democratic island nation.”

To make Beijing feel even worse, a few hours after the two leader’s conversation, Trump tweeted to respond to the reaction the call had generated, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” and “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

And after Beijing lodged a complaint with the Obama administration over Trump’s call with Taiwanese, Stephen Moore, an adviser to the U.S. president-elect, told the press, “Too many namby-pamby people in the foreign policy shop are saying ‘Oh my gosh we cannot do this, we might insult the Chinese.’ I don’t care if we insult the Chinese. Taiwan is our ally. That is a country that we have backed because they believe in freedom. We ought to back our ally, and if China doesn’t like it, screw them. We see what’s happening in China the way they are saber-rattling out there in the East, it is about time we do what Reagan did, we stand up to these bullies.”

Then came the Chinese seizure of the U.S. Navy underwater survey drone in waters off The Philippines on Dec. 15. The White House was silent on the episode, but Trump, reported the Australian, “has been unrelenting in condemning China’s action, accusing it of ‘stealing’ and ‘ripping’ the US drone out of the water … It comes at a time of steeply rising tension between Beijing and Washington following Mr. Trump’s telephone conversation with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and questioning of the ‘One China’ policy.”

To add more fuel to the fire, the U.S. President-elect appointed Peter Navarro as the head of the new White House National Trade Council. Dr. Navarro is the author of Death by China: Confronting the Dragon-A Global Call to Action and in his recent National Interest article, “The Trump Doctrine: Peace Through Strength,” the UC-Irvine economics professor wrote, “Those who insist Donald Trump has no foreign are simply not listening. The ‘Trump Doctrine’ is a page right out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook: peace through economic and military strength.”

“Trump,” continued Professor Navarro, “will no longer tolerate a mercantilist China having its way with America’s factories and jobs. He will firmly crack down on unfair trade practices like illegal export subsidies, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft and bring American jobs and factories home. That’s not just good trade policy-it’s good foreign policy, too. China’s rapidly advancing military strength has been its ability to economically grow much faster than its strategic rivals. In other words, by rebalancing trade between the U.S. and China, Trump will also rebalance the military equation in America’s favor.”

“It has been clear for some time that Peter Navarro would feature somewhere in Trump’s team,” noted Douglas Bulloch of Forbes, “so closely does he reflect, possibly even inspire, Trump’s China discourse˘ The title graphic for the documentary of Navarro’s now famous book ‘Death by China’ was a picture of a knife, hilted by a 100 Yuan note, plunging into the heart of America. If that picture speaks a thousand words, many of them will be in CAPS.”

Even before his inauguration, the 45th U.S. President and his foreign policy team’s “unorthodox ‘China Gambit’ is already concentrating minds,” as Bulloch puts it, and “leaving everyone wondering what comes next?”

Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of the China Program at Marietta College.