How Trump is helping China

CHINA WINS

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The president undoing himself systematically one day at a time.

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The New York Times
The New York Times

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

David Leonhardt

David Leonhardt

Op-Ed Columnist

On the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated president almost a year ago, a Chinese military leader named Jin Yinan gave a speech to top Communist Party officials in China. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China,’” Jin said. “In fact, he has given China a huge gift.”
That gift, Jin explained, was Trump’s planned pullout from the trans-Pacific Partnership, which formally happened three days after Jin’s speech, on Jan. 23. The partnership was a trade deal in which the United States and Pacific countries like Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam had banded together to check the economic rise of China. The likely economic effects of the pact were the subject of intense debate in this country, on both the right and left. In reality, though, the economic effects would never have been as large as either the deal’s boosters or critics argued.
Instead, the most important effect of the deal was geopolitical. The deal was, as the Australian academic Salvatore Babones has said, “primarily a tool for spreading U.S. interests abroad.” Above all, the deal was a response to China’s new global assertiveness.
But Trump said no thanks. And top Chinese officials correctly saw his withdrawal as “a huge gift.”
The story of Jin’s speech to Communist Party leaders comes from an article in the new issue of The New Yorker, by Evan Osnos. The piece is a calm but devastating indictment of Trump’s foreign policy. The canceling of the trade pact, Osnos explains, is merely one of the ways Trump is helping China.
The details include: a World Trade Organization meeting that the Trump administration left early, only to have Chinese officials then hold sway; the easy ways that Chinese officials have manipulated Trump by favoring his family business; and a quotation from the prime minister of Singapore, explaining that other countries now look first to China for international engagement.
“Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity” for China, as one influential foreign-affairs scholar in Beijing tells Osnos.
Some aspects of Trump’s foreign policy, like his campaign against ISIS, have worked better than expected so far. Yet it would be a big mistake to miss the larger picture. While prattling on about “America first,” Trump is actually doing grave damage to American interests around the world. No country benefits more from that damage than China, the most significant strategic challenger to the United States.
China’s leaders are well aware of the gift they have received.
I recommend reading all of Osnos’s article. It’s off to an early lead as 2018’s most important piece of journalism.
Programming note. Yesterday marked only the fifth time in the last 120 years that The New York Times has changed publishers. Our new publisher is A.G. Sulzberger, and for more on him and the future of The Times, you can read:
• this 2017 story from Wired magazine;
• the Innovation Report of 2014, which he oversaw;
• two follow-up reports that were heavily influenced by that report (one from 2015 on business strategy and one from 2017 on newsroom strategy).
Or you can hear from Sulzberger himself. He has written a piece on the editorial page today:
“There was a reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press were placed first among our essential rights,” he writes. “Our founders understood that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to hold power to account were prerequisites for a successful democracy. But a dangerous confluence of forces is threatening the press’s central role in helping people understand and engage with the world around them.”
The full Opinion report from The Times follows

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