President Trump’s latest foray into the world of international economics – his ongoing trade war with China – has been widely derided by his critics. It’s been derided on the grounds that there is no long-term strategy; on the grounds that the trade war will not be, as Trump has bragged, “good and easy to win”; on the grounds that Trump continues to send mixed signals, simultaneously claiming that China is bearing the brunt of his tariffs while desperately urging Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to lower interest rates.
Now, Trump’s trade policy may not be well-considered. His understanding of trade is rudimentary at best – he still operates under the assumption that mutually beneficial trade is actually a zero-sum game. And Trump’s rhetoric may be confusing – it’s unclear whether Trump wants tariffs or wants to alleviate them. But Trump does have one thing absolutely right: China is an imperturbable geopolitical foe. And the United States ought to be taking a serious look at a long-term strategy to contain and then reverse the dominance of the totalitarian communist regime.
Trump is the only president of recent vintage to understand this simple truth. The Chinese regime is strengthening its totalitarianism; market forces have not opened up China’s politics. China’s attempts to strengthen its grip on Hong Kong, its forays into the complexities of Indian-Pakistani politics, its threats of sanctions against American firms over the sale of jets to Taiwan – all of this bespeaks the intent of the Xi Jinping regime, which has a philosophy of political revanchism. The supposed moderation of Dengism – the political philosophy of Deng Xiaoping, which supposedly prized pragmatism over doctrinal adherence to Marxist tenets – is being quickly reversed, with China’s economy placed at the mercy of political leadership. Dengism was always treated with too much optimism by the West: The same regime supposedly pushing for detente with the West stole hundreds of billions in intellectual property every year for years while continuing to build up its military. Still, Xi has moved away from even tepid moves toward openness.