On June 16, 2015 Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. In his announcement speech Trump bemoaned US-China trade saying, “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.” Similarly, Trump blamed the nation of China for American unemployment saying “They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs. They all have jobs.” In the speech Trump outlined his three primary talking points that would define his campaign’s rhetoric towards Beijing. Firstly, that US-China relations in trade and diplomacy are inherently a danger to the US, secondly that China is responsible for the United States’ economic woes, and thirdly that the first two points merit an “attack” of some kind on China which the United States must win. The height of Trump’s aggressive melodramatic campaign embellishments came on May 2, 2016 when Trump accused, “Because we can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.”
As president, Donald Trump’s primary policy towards Beijing was to engage in a trade war that saw the United States apply tariffs to $360 billion worth of imports from China between 2018 and 2020. Working people would end up feeling the brunt of these tariffs as materials for domestic manufacturing became more expensive. Though most of the US media complex deemed the trade war a “failure” because of how it failed to reduce the trade deficit it should similarly be noted that the trade war also failed to disincentivize US companies from doing business in China as was Trump’s stated intention. On the contrary, the capitalist class was eager to participate in order to forestall competition from Chinese companies such as Tencent and Huawei.
Militarily, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all but explicitly declared his desire for open conflict with Beijing. In a speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Pompeo declared, “if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done. We must not continue it and we must not return to it.” (“engagement” in this context being Pompeo’s way of describing peaceful diplomacy between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.) Pompeo concluded the thought by saying, “The free world must triumph over this new tyranny.” Pompeo also held meetings with Indian government officials during the tense China-India border standoff in Arunachal Pradesh calling for a more aggressive Indian stance. Other GOP figures have extended the Party’s hostility to China including more recently, Tom Cotton calling for what is essentially a renewal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in US academia. Republicans experience virtually no political downsides to adopting a militant anti-China stance as their base has already conditioned themselves to believe Beijing is a direct threat.
Democrats do adopt a different tone towards China, but a deeper analysis reveals they too see an aggressive militaristic stance towards China as a positive policy position for the party. During a Democratic Primary debate on December 17, 2019 moderator Judy Woodruff asked the now-President Joe Biden, “National security scholars have long warned about the historical precedent that when there’s a ruling power and a rising power, there’s likely to be a war. Is the U.S. on a collision course with China?” Biden responded to the question, “It’s on a collision course with China, but not for war. What we have to make clear is that we, in fact, are not going to abide by what they’ve done… And what we started in our administration that Trump stopped, we should be moving 60 percent of our sea power to that area of the world to let, in fact, the Chinese understand that they’re not going to go any further. We are going to be there to protect other folks.” While Biden was careful to push back against all-out war in his answer, 60 percent of the US Navy is an enormous force to consolidate in one area especially for an organization whose mission statement says their operating area is “around the globe.” How in Biden’s mind is Beijing supposed to respond to these measures? How is committing the majority of a naval superpower at the doorstep of another antagonistic superpower not an escalation towards war?
More infamously, in April 2020 the Biden campaign released an ad accusing Trump of “rolling over for the Chinese” because Trump had previously downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic in its early stages. The ad then attacked Trump with the claim that after Trump instituted a ban on travellers from China, a number of travellers from China had been allowed into the United States anyways. In order to attack Trump, the Biden campaign saw fit to deploy the “soft on China” attack that Republicans have long used on Democratic candidates. This anti-China one-upmanship between Republicans and Democrats has disastrous consequences, not only internationally but domestically as well. There has been, across many US cities, a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes while hate crimes against other groups declined in the same timespan. This epidemic is exacerbated by US government officials of both parties blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic as a smokescreen for their own pandemic mismanagement and irresponsibility.
Like it or not, the People’s Republic of China is the United States’ largest trading partner, and even minor conflicts can have disastrous implications for the global economy and will impact people the hardest. Furthermore, Beijing is not fundamentally the cause of the economic woes of the United States. The American capitalist crisis does far more harm to US workers than competition from Beijing could ever cause. China did not “steal” American jobs. The capitalist class chose to move them to take advantage of China’s lack of worker safety enforcement. China did not cause the US to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. US government officials, in conjunction with American capitalists chose to have a meek, watered-down and ineffective response at a time when the number of infected in the US was small enough that it could have been contained. The woes of the United States are the fault of the capitalist class and their accomplices in the US government. Not only does anti-China rhetoric act as a smokescreen for supremely wealthy and powerful ghouls, it also is escalating military conflict towards another World War. And while some might claim the US is not actually serious about war, US officials continue to make escalating demands of Beijing and promote an increasingly aggressive military agenda. World War III is not inevitable but it must be stopped by the people of the US demanding de-escalation in the Asia-Pacific region in the interests of global peace. The People’s Republic of China is a sovereign nation with a large economy and expansive territorial claims not unlike the US, and they would if the US would allow it, like to be left alone.
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/06/16/full-text-donald-trump-announces-a-presidential-bid/ – Trump Presidential Announcement Speech
- https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-36185275 – China Rape Accusation
- https://sv.usembassy.gov/secretary-michael-r-pompeo-remarks-at-the-richard-nixon-presidential-library-and-museum-communist-china-and-the-free-worlds-future/ – Pompeo speech
- https://twitter.com/SenTomCotton/status/1363863215072022529 – Tom Cotton tweet
- https://www.axios.com/republicans-democrats-argue-china-election-4416f23e-95b6-4fd3-bc14-7d60c910ce86.html – GOP campaign strategy
- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/10/29/inus-o29.html – Pompeo meeting in India
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/20/transcript-december-democratic-debate/ – Dem debate transcript
- https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/23/biden-ad-exposes-left-rift-china-202241 – Biden ad discussion
- https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-03-05/anti-asian-crimes-harassment – Report on anti-Asian hate crimes
- https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/highlights/top/top2012yr.html – US trading partner stats
- https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45899310 – BBC report on trade war
- https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-11/how-china-won-trump-s-good-and-easy-to-win-trade-war – Trade war analysis