Is China a ‘Strategic Partner’ or a Cold War 2.0 Foe?


President Trump may not be interested in cold war with China, but cold war is interested in him. Well, at least if his fellow Republicans have any say in the matter.

If there’s any clear takeaway from the G20 trade ceasefire, it’s that Trump views the fate of Chinese telecom giant Huawei as something to be negotiated. Just another pressure point. This Bloomberg headline pretty much nails it: “Huawei Lifeline Shows Trump Prefers Business Deals Over Cold War.

After all, you can’t very well conduct cold war against a nation that you refer to as a “strategic partner,” as Trump did over the weekend. (Wall Street Journal reporter Bob Davis tweets: “Who else used that term? Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin — the same Bill Clinton who Trump lambastes for paving the way for China to join the WTO.”)

Then there are the GOP China hawks. They view the administration’s ban on US companies supplying software and equipment to Huawei as a key move shaping the tech battlespace in a twilight struggle with Beijing. And this kettle is outraged by Trump’s apparent reversal. On Twitter, Sen. Marco Rubio called it a potentially a credibility-destroying, “catastrophic mistake” for the president and his national security team, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn said it’s “time to stop [Huawei] in their tracks.” One should presume the Steve Bannon-led Committee on the Present Danger: China is also none-too-thrilled.

Of course, it has never been clear to what extent Trump had bought into the Cold War 2.0 narrative vs. seeing the conflict as economic in nature and revolving around trade deficits and trade deals. His language and emphasis on social media and at rallies certainly supports this reporting by Davis and Lingling Wei in The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Trump, however, largely looks at Huawei as both a bargaining chip and a commercial challenger to US firms, not a part of an existential struggle with China, people familiar with his thinking said.”

Now Rubio is threatening to reinstate the Huawei ban with veto-proof legislation. And maybe it’s more than just a threat. Yet it seems unlikely that the United States can engage in a long-term, multi-faceted, geopolitical struggle with China without deep presidential commitment. And Tariff Man doesn’t appear to be a Cold Warrior. Nor does it seem like Democrats have much interest, either, beyond tactical criticism. Anyone watching last week’s Democratic presidential debate got zero sense that the party was ready to confront China in any sort of comprehensive way.

As I recently wrote for The Week: “The more you look at the idea of a tech cold war — from the lack of serious planning to the problems in disentangling the two ecosystems, the more fanciful it seems.” So far, at least, events are bearing out that column, headlined, “Why the fears of a U.S.-China tech cold war are overblown.

Published in Economics
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  1. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    I think its a bit of a false choice. Why must if be one or the other? Relationships between nations are complex things, that exist at the edge of political control. Events could overtake a carefully managed relationship into directions that neither wants. Look at the relationship between Canada and China. Canada’s Ambassador to China had to resign for the rank stupidity of an honest quote, and a new Ambassador is unlikely to be appointed before an election in October. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada, is about to be moved to France, in a long promised promotion. So Justine Trudeau who campaigned against the conservative government’s relationship with China (and is quite frankly a sycophantic Sinophile) will have broken relations with China.

    I think its a far more interesting idea if we think of China as both a foe, and trade or economic partner. They’ll sail their own coarse, and weather we’re with them or against them isn’t their concern.

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  2. Skyler Coolidge

    China is the mob, and the United States is married to the mob.  

    I think Trump may be able to reverse the damage done by Nixon and the Clintons, but especially since Clinton our entire manufacturing industry has been moving to China, not just for the cheap labor, but to tap the potential markets there.  

    The problem is, besides Bill Clinton giving them our ballistic missile technology, and Obama giving them all the most intensely private information about everyone in the United States with a security clearance, is that if China goes too far and we need to oppose them, all China has to do is rattle a few sabers and we have to cave.  Our economy cannot easily recover from the disruption to the market.  The Chinese economy, however, doesn’t matter.  While our industry leaders would scream bloody murder, the Chinese people would simply be told to tighten their belts or else they might just be intentionally starved to death.  It doesn’t matter, the rulers of China will always eat well.

    But with Trump, I think the dynamic has changed.  I hope.  Maybe.   Time will tell.  Maybe we can escape the mob and carry on without them.  Or maybe they will drag us back down again.

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  3. Unsk Member

    Trump bobs and weaves.  He may be holding off bringing down the hammer with  larger sanctions and tariffs until the FED cutes rates, and the manufacturing economy has time to adjust to new economic realities.  

    China should  never be considered a strategic partner ever again.  The Chinese public is already thoroughly eschewing buying American products and has turned very anti-American.  There is no case to be made for trading with China. We will not be able to sell our products there. We do not need their products at all.

    They have lied, cheated and stole vast amounts of American technology and have destroyed roughly 30% of American manufacturing.  And for what?  

    China’s trade surplus with American amounts to the vast majority of China’s trade surplus with the world. Our trade has funded their vast and threatening expansion of their military and their threatening military stance against their neighbors. It has also allowed them to build this draconian high tech Orwell on steroids Social Credit system that will become the World’s first high tech Police State.  The trillions made from our trade has also allowed China to entrap dozens of cash strapped but geopolitically critical countries around the world into their predatory “Belt and Road” initiative which will allow China to control much of the world’s trade. Time to put an end to China’s grasp for World Domination.  

    Trump may be bobbing and weaving to slowly entrap China, but in the end we need to completely cut ties with China in every way.

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  4. Skyler Coolidge

    Unsk (View Comment):
    They have lied, cheated and stole vast amounts of American technology and have destroyed roughly 30% of American manufacturing. And for what?

    Aided and abetted by the Clintons.

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  5. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron


    Obviously, Trump’s competitive economic engagement is a welcome relief from politics so PC diplomatically correct as to cut our economic nose off to spite our face. Meanwhile, Senator Rubio is also correct to stay aware of a society that puts 2 million people into concentration camps, is guilty of organ harvesting on a large scale, is absorbing or trying to absorb its free neighbors (Hong Kong, Taiwan,..etc.) and still can’t adopt real democratic institutions.

    I think with the current administration we have the best of both worlds. After watching the Dem Debates, any replacement from that side would be the worst of both worlds.



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