Good news: China is nervous

The New York Times reports that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, abruptly summoned hundreds of officials to Beijing recently. He did so, says the Times, in order to convey a sense of “anxious urgency.” The Communist Party, Xi told the officials, faces major risks on all fronts and must batten down the hatches.

“Globally, sources of turmoil and points of risk are multiplying,” [Xi] told the gathering in January at the Central Party School. At home, he added, “the party is at risk from indolence, incompetence and of becoming divorced from the public.”

According to the Times, Xi’s anxiety stems mainly from China’s slow economic growth and its “grinding trade fight with the United States.” Significant pressure from the international community over China’s political and business practices “add[] to its difficulties in dealing with its domestic issues,” explains Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who wrote “The Third Revolution,” a study of Xi.

It’s unclear how China will respond to the “major risks” Xi perceives. A rational response would be to reach a trade deal with the U.S. and to modify, at least to some extent, the business practices that the international community is pressuring the regime to change.

This may not be China’s response. Indeed, the Times’ statement that Xi wants to “batten down the hatches” suggests a different response.

Either way, I think President Trump deserves considerable credit for applying so much pressure to China. His approach to China may not be flawless, but he has upped the cost to China of its unfair trade and other economic practices. If China’s leader wants to make meaningful concessions in response, that’s great. If he wants to ride out the storm Trump has helped create, at least China won’t be riding quite so high.

President Obama never dreamed of getting tough with China the way Trump has. But it’s not just Obama. As Michael Auslin of the Hoover Institution says:

Trump. . .has begun by blowing up past practice, specifically in no longer pretending China is a fair trading partner, in finally responding to cyber espionage, and in at least attempting to put more military pressure on Beijing by increasing naval freedom of navigation operations and aerial overflights near new Chinese military bases in the South China Sea. All in all, Trump’s approach is the first since the normalization of relations in 1979 to rattle the Chinese and put them on the back foot.

The mainstream media would rather disband than give Trump any credit for this. The Times article cited in this post studiously avoids doing so. Yet, the news reported by the Times in the article stands as a tribute to Trump’s China policy.

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