Curb the Dragon
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Curb the Dragon


WASHINGTON, DC – March 14, 2019

Two and a half years ago, when Donald Trump became President, his arrival radically changed the system of ideas about international laws, economic models, and the world order as such.

Trump has introduced to international relations an extremely utilitarian, trade and procurement approach. His task is clear -- to make the world more profitable for the United States in the truest sense of the word. He is not interested in values, global architecture, a system of alliances and even military fighting as a means of asserting superiority and promoting interests. Trump's strong suit is trade wars, his method is one-on-one deals at the negotiating table (in other words, a bilateral rather than a multilateral approach). Well, in any case, Trump, in general, doesn’t care what came before him -- he calls all the previous agreements “bad deals,” so they just have to be canceled and forgotten.

This causes rejection and indignation all over the world, but nevertheless the leading countries, whatever they may think about Trump, adopted the new model of relations. The US President pushes everyone to the “every man for himself” formula, believing that in a bilateral format, Washington has an advantage over almost anyone.

But with China, this scheme does not work so straightforwardly. At the congressional hearings held on Wednesday two leading China security experts warned US senators that unilateral US action against China on trade will not be enough to change the Asian country’s ongoing violation of international norms and institutions.

As trade officials in Washington pursue a resolution to a months-long trade war with China that the United States has waged alone, the experts said the US should focus on building new international alliances to pressure China to roll back numerous alleged improper practices including theft of intellectual property, cyber espionage, development deals that put host countries in debt, and military aggression in the South China Sea.

“An ‘America first’ strategy is a very Chinese strategy,” said Oriana Mastro, a political military affairs strategist at the US Air Force Reserve, at a hearing convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to examine a “new approach for an era of US-China competition.”

“One country doing it alone doesn’t have a great impact, because China can substitute its trade by going somewhere else.

“There’s no amount of threatening that we can do that would cause [Beijing] to make changes to human rights, or to the economy domestically if they think it will undermine their power.

“This is an area where coalitions matter, because China will only stop behaviour when it doesn’t work.”

Jim Talent, a commissioner on the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), said economic deals were not “the way to go, and I don’t think it’s going to change behavior.”

The former Missouri senator called on the US to work multilaterally with smaller countries within China’s geographical orbit to deal with “Chinese abuses.”

The US government, he added, must reassure these nations that “if they cooperate and help us, we will protect them from any kind of reprisals.”

In written testimony to the Senate committee, Mastro said the South China Sea was at the heart of US-China geopolitical competition and called on the US to “move beyond symbolic displays of force such as the freedom of navigation operations.”

She urged the US to build “a new institution or coalition of like-minded states that patrol the waters and protect all countries’ rights of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”

On trade, the US should consider establishing a new international governing body focused on issues such as intellectual property protection, rather than “tacking it onto the existing institutions,” Mastro said in Wednesday’s hearing

She added that international institutions were designed to be “sticky” and “difficult to change.”

“I’m not surprised that institutions built decades ago cannot handle what to do about cyber [security],” she said.

The ability of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which China joined in 2001, to monitor, investigate and punish China’s apparent flouting of international trade rules has come under increasing scrutiny from both the US and other member states.

At the same time, consensus has grown within the US foreign policy community that economic engagement with China has not led to market liberalisation or political reform within the country.

“After 20 years of helping China prosper economically and hoping that they would emerge as a responsible partner on the world stage, it is time for US policymakers to acknowledge this path was not the right path,” foreign relations committee chair James Risch, a Republican senator from Idaho, said on Wednesday.

“China exports corruption and its authoritarian model across the globe. It uses cheap financing as a debt trap, and has built a police state that the Chinese Communist Party uses to limit free expression that contradicts the party line.

“These are not the actions of a responsible stakeholder.”

Beyond seeking the support of global allies to confront China, the US should also bolster its investments in critical areas of research and development, Mastro told senators.

Under US President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, released on Monday, funding for the National Science Foundation, which supports basic science and engineering research across the country, would be slashed 12% to $7.1 billion.

That reduction would be significantly higher than the 5% cut across all non-defence spending that Trump’s budget is aiming for. Congress is not expected to pass the proposed spending plan.

To date, Trump's approaches to solving international economic problems from a position of strength and attractiveness of the American market for foreign companies look very effective. The entire modern architecture of multilateral agreements was created by politicians embraced by ideas about the equality of countries in international relations. They did not recognize the “logic of strong” in market behavior. It should be noted that for the most of the world's global companies and corporations, presence in the US market stands out as a prerequisite for success. Of course, in these realities, Trump’s negotiating lever looks like a dictatorial rod. For now everyone has obeyed him. China is next. The next country after it will be, probably, Japan, which has a large surplus in trade with the US. And there, too, resistance will be short-lived. Japanese leading corporations traditionally focused on the US markets. The European Union is next in line...

Author: USA Really