An inflection point in U.S.-China relations

Michael Auslin, an Asia expert at the Hoover Institution, examines what I consider the most important foreign policy issue of our time — U.S. relations with China. Auslin believes this may be “crunch time” for these relations.

Auslin is happy with President Trump’s China policy so far:

The Trump administration’s full-court press against China is going strong, buttressed by a dramatic shift in opinion among the foreign-policy community, now increasingly critical of Beijing. Trade talks are continuing, and for the nonce, the administration does not seem to setting itself up for a quick deal that will be all smoke and no fire.


Trump continues to tighten the screws on Huawei [the Chinese smartphone maker whose equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans], a campaign which has run into numerous obstacles from allies wary of taking on China. Washington got some support this week from London, which released a report slamming Huawei’s 5G security vulnerabilities. While the Brits continue to shy away from a full ban on Huawei for their 5G network, the highlighting of Huawei’s empty promises to fix security weaknesses helps Trump’s broader argument that the company can’t be trusted.


[F]or the third straight month, U.S. naval vessels (this time, including a U.S. Coast Guard ship) transited the strategic Taiwan Strait, sending messages to China that American warships won’t be deterred from sailing throughout the region. While the “freedom of navigation” operations won’t change China’s policy in the South China Sea, nor will they frighten Beijing into giving up its new bases in the Spratly and Paracel Island chains, the forward-leaning operations of the U.S. Pacific Fleet are a welcome turnaround from the Obama-era reticence to antagonize China.

That’s the good news. However:

The longer the trade spat goes on. . .the closer to the election it gets, and the pressure on the president to show some type of “success” will grow.

China’s economy is slowing down due in part to Trump turning the screws, but its leadership may choose nonetheless to resist a deal for now in the hope that Trump will make concessions as the election nears and/or that the Democrats will regain the White House and grant even more concessions (if they don’t fold completely).

Auslin concludes by warning that “a U.S. backdown will only embolden Beijing, which will make the (likely correct) assumption that it has absorbed everything the Americans are willing to throw at it, and now can move ever more aggressively ahead.” That’s why we’re entering crunch time for U.S.-China relations.

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