Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

To Confront China, Let Trump be Reagan

◎ The most effective and underutilized weapon in the West’s arsenal is the truth.

By Joseph Bosco

Donald Trump does not see China as an enemy, according to an outside consultant who advises the president on how to think about China and prides himself on having “restrained” him from taking several actions that would displease Beijing.

The “China-is-not-an-enemy” refrain mirrors an urgent public plea to Trump from more than 100 China observers who consider this administration’s more confrontational approach as misguided and dangerous. This latest rhetorical assurance should provide some cheer.

Their open letter triggered a response from at least as many national security practitioners who contend that wrong-headed and naive China policies of previous administrations created the perilous situation the West now confronts. (I joined in signing that letter.)

For four decades, whatever malign behavior China was guilty of on trade, intellectual property theft, proliferation, human rights, Taiwan, aggression in the East and South China Seas and complicity in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs — the advocates of open-ended engagement warned that “treating China as an enemy will make it an enemy.”

In fact, generous U.S. engagement policies took precisely the opposite approach, treating China as a strategic partner, an aspiring responsible stakeholder, and even as America’s good-faith geo-strategic colleague. (One high Obama administration official consistently referred to Beijing’s communist interlocutors as “our Chinese friends.”)

Yet, the China we face today is, at its core, the same resentful, hostile, oppressive communist regime that Richard Nixon thought he could change by “opening China to the world and opening the world to China” — except that now it is exponentially more powerful and menacing in every military, diplomatic and economic dimension.

Nixon thought engagement would help “detoxify the poison of Mao Zedong’s thought.” But it was embedded in the Chinese Communist Party DNA, which should have been evident in the advice to comrades even from Mao’s supposedly enlightened successor, Deng Xiaoping: “Hide your capabilities (and intentions); bide your time.”

Deng demonstrated his own Maoist instincts when he ordered the massacre of Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square. Now, Xi Jinping finds this the right time to revive Maoism in both domestic and international areas, rooted in the concept that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” He is applying that doctrine to Uighurs, Tibetans, Taiwanese, Falun Gong, Christians and dissidents, including the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong.

The intellectual debate over whether the United States sees China as an enemy is overwhelmed by the brutal reality that China’s Communist Party sees itself as America’s enemy, and always has.

While Washington has no intention of initiating military conflict to address China’s multiple expanding threats, the most effective and underutilized weapon in the West’s arsenal is the truth, sometimes known as strategic information. Reportedly, Beijing spends as much or more on internal security as it does on its military — because it fears the Chinese people more than it does any external enemy. That existential vulnerability should be exploited.

The West urgently needs a well-conceived, aggressive and sustained strategic communications program, such as we had in World War II and the Cold War, to give the Chinese people all the dangerous, subversive facts that Beijing strives mightily to keep from them — most recently, for example, the massive citizen protests in Hong Kong, and international commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre.

Such a robust and consistent truth campaign would be another indication that this administration recognizes we are in a new cold war with China, but it has been waged by only one side so far.  Some will call the approach unduly provocative, but as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently: “With the indispensable support of President Ronald Reagan, a human rights revolution toppled the totalitarian regimes of the former Soviet Union.”

It was accomplished without a shooting war and it started when Reagan shocked the world with his moral condemnation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and the foreign policy establishment finally let Reagan be Reagan.

A similar approach now would offer President Trump a lower-cost, lower-risk alternative than the devil’s dilemma of choosing between a new hot war or further submission to a malign communist dynasty.

Nixon’s “Red China” never changed and never went away. It is now more than four decades past time for the regime to change or to be changed by its people — with a little help from its friends.  Like the Soviet Union before it, the People’s Republic of China has reached its 70-year expiration date.

People should stop trying to prevent Trump from being Trump when it comes to dealing with China and North Korea, such as by reversing his initial sound ZTE and Huawei bans and acceding to Beijing’s pressure to ease up on North Korea. His unorthodox instincts have created more potential progress than all the sophisticated diplomacy of his predecessors. In fact, if there’s one former president who should be emulated, let Trump be Reagan, who knew an enemy when he saw one.

First published in The Hill.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies, and has held nonresident appointments in the Asia-Pacific program at the Atlantic Council and the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SinoInsider. 

Search past entries by date
“The breadth of SinoInsider’s insights—from economics through the military to governance, all underpinned by unparalleled reporting on the people in charge—is stunning. In my over fifty years of in-depth reading on the PRC, unclassified and classified, SinoInsider is in a class all by itself.”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Unique insights are available frequently from the reports of Sinoinsider.”
Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow for China Strategy, The Heritage Foundation
“Thank you for your information and analysis. Very useful.”
Prof. Ravni Thakur, University of Delhi, India
“SinoInsider’s research has helped me with investing in or getting out of Chinese companies.”
Charles Nelson, Managing Director, Murdock Capital Partners
“I value SinoInsider because of its always brilliant articles touching on, to name just a few, CCP history, current trends, and factional politics. Its concise and incisive analysis — absent the cliches that dominate China policy discussions in DC and U.S. corporate boardrooms — also represents a major contribution to the history of our era by clearly defining the threat the CCP poses to American peace and prosperity and global stability. I am grateful to SinoInsider — long may it thrive!”
Lee Smith, Author and journalist
“Your publication insights tremendously help us complete our regular analysis on in-depth issues of major importance. ”
Ms. Nicoleta Buracinschi, Embassy of Romania to the People’s Republic of China
"I’m a very happy, satisfied subscriber to your service and all the deep information it provides to increase our understanding. SinoInsider is profoundly helping to alter the public landscape when it comes to the PRC."
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Prof. Ming’s information about the Sino-U.S. trade war is invaluable for us in Taiwan’s technology industry. Our company basically acted on Prof. Ming’s predictions and enlarged our scale and enriched our product lines. That allowed us to deal capably with larger orders from China in 2019. ”
Mr. Chiu, Realtek R&D Center
“I am following China’s growing involvement in the Middle East, seeking to gain a better understanding of China itself and the impact of domestic constraints on its foreign policy. I have found SinoInsider quite helpful in expanding my knowledge and enriching my understanding of the issues at stake.”
Ehud Yaari, Lafer International Fellow, The Washington Institute
“SinoInsider’s research on the CCP examines every detail in great depth and is a very valuable reference. Foreign researchers will find SinoInsider’s research helpful in understanding what is really going on with the CCP and China. ”
Baterdene, Researcher, The National Institute for Security Studies (Mongolian)
“The forecasts of Prof. Chu-cheng Ming and the SinoInsider team are an invaluable resource in guiding our news reporting direction and anticipating the next moves of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”
Chan Miu-ling, Radio Television Hong Kong China Team Deputy Leader
“SinoInsider always publishes interesting and provocative work on Chinese elite politics. It is very worthwhile to follow the work of SinoInsider to get their take on factional struggles in particular.”
Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
“[SinoInsider has] been very useful in my class on American foreign policy because it contradicts the widely accepted argument that the U.S. should work cooperatively with China. And the whole point of the course is to expose students to conflicting approaches to contemporary major problems.”
Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
“As a China-based journalist, SinoInsider is to me a very reliable source of information to understand deeply how the CCP works and learn more about the factional struggle and challenges that Xi Jinping may face. ”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“SinoInsider offers an interesting perspective on the Sino-U.S. trade war and North Korea. Their predictions are often accurate, which is definitely very helpful.”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“I have found SinoInsider to provide much greater depth and breadth of coverage with regard to developments in China. The subtlety of the descriptions of China's policy/political processes is absent from traditional media channels.”
John Lipsky, Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
“My teaching at Cambridge and policy analysis for the UK audience have been informed by insights from your analyzes. ”
Dr Kun-Chin Lin, University Lecturer in Politics,
Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge University
" SinoInsider's in-depth and nuanced analysis of Party dynamics is an excellent template to train future Sinologists with a clear understanding that what happens in the Party matters."
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, International Christian University
“ I find Sinoinsider particularly helpful in instructing students about the complexities of Chinese politics and what elite competition means for the future of the US-China relationship.”
Howard Sanborn, Professor, Virginia Military Institute
“SinoInsider has been one of my most useful (and enjoyable) resources”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Professor Ming and his team’s analyses of current affairs are very far-sighted and directionally accurate. In the present media environment where it is harder to distinguish between real and fake information, SinoInsider’s professional perspectives are much needed to make sense of a perilous and unpredictable world. ”
Liu Cheng-chuan, Professor Emeritus, National Chiayi University