Waiting for Scowcroft (Mark Simon)

2020.06.30


Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) think Donald Trump is going to lose in November. An outcome that is just fine with them.


For despite the ridiculous notion that the CCP prefers Trump to Biden, a fable spread by the Biden camp, the idea of no more Mike Pompeo, no more Matt Pottinger, Peter Navarro, or Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and of course Vice-President Pence, is a wonderful thought making the rounds in Beijing. It is probably also a relief that they may not have to monitor Twitter for US foreign policy positions.


Trump is a mixed bag when it comes to China. Yes, President Trump does not really care about Human Rights, and all he wants out of China is trade, but he has a team that he lets operate, and has made clear an outlook that has turned the game on China. Yes, Trump calls Xi Jinping his good friend, but he does it as he turns the knife at Xi for everything from freedom of navigation ops to tariffs.


No more Trump after 2020 means no more hardliners. In Beijing’s dreams, they see a return to the days of Obama, when the first move Obama made in regards to China was to send his Chief of Staff John Podesta to discuss climate change. 40+ coal-fired power plants later and it is not hard to see why Beijing prefers Joe Biden, who has a China team of Obama hands hell bent on proving to the world that they were not the suckers Trump painted them as, and in part Hillary Clinton rejected. (Clinton made no bones in 2016 she was not in step with Obama on China.)


So far, what we have seen from Biden’s China advisors would please Beijing. Ryan Hass, former Obama NSC staffer, has said China will be once again consulted on dealings with Taiwan. Jake Sullivan, another Obama NSC staffer, has said climate change and multilateralism will be priorities in dealing with the CCP. In other words, no arms sales to Taiwan, more coal fired power plants, and Germans watering down everything Beijing objects too.


For Hong Kong it is painfully obvious that the Biden team has embraced the theory of China engagement fan Richard Haass, who is rooting for the CCP to get Hong Kong over with so Biden can reset a baseline to deal with the CCP without Hong Kong being an irritant. If Hong Kong is subdued, it’s not an issue for Biden to deal with. Haass has advocated killing Hong Kong’s special status, a move that would make Hong Kong largely a Chinese city in terms of its dealing with the US, and as such given no more thought than Shanghai by the US.


It is one reason we have seen the Biden team lean towards talk of refugee discussions for Hong Kong. Moving Hong Kong to “a place to escape from rather than fight for” moves Hong Kong away in terms of what the US locks horns with China over. Sadly, we have some of our younger Hong Kong activists who have a bizarre belief that pushing the refugee issue helps them electorally in Hong Kong. I can only say that I don’t really get that line of thought.


Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, our alliance with Japan, and even the South China Sea, are all issues where Biden’s China advisors are seeking to lessen tension with the CCP. Confrontation is seen as the wrong approach by the Biden team. There may be a case for fewer tweets and less vitriol, but the hardline positions of the Trump administration have placed a stress on China’s communists we have never seen before. A Biden administration may well make the same mistake the U.S. made 30 years ago by the first President Bush of relieving stress on the CCP at a time it was in crisis.


In 1989, just days after the People’s Liberation Army slaughtered Chinese citizens at the Tiananmen Square, then National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft began an appeasement policy that set the stage for nearly 25 years of the U.S. operating on a premise of enticing the CCP into the modern world through a policy of engagement. A policy that has left us with the threat from China the world faces today.


I backed that engagement policy until as late as 2010, but I was wrong. We should have been more Churchill-Reagan and less Bush-Scowcroft.


Trump has had an imperfect China policy, but overall it has been the right one compared with the path Scowcroft placed us on with China. We are not certain what awaits us with a Biden Presidency, but I do know what the CCP and Xi are waiting for, hoping for. Another Brent Scowcroft.


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