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Trump’s China policy has no strategy — except to boost his reelection campaign

Trump ChinaTHE UNITED STATES should be leading democratic nations in resisting China’s tightening totalitarianism and escalating belligerence. Instead, President Trump is pursuing a reckless, incoherent and unilateral offensive against Beijing that appears designed to boost his reelection campaign, not manage the complicated challenge posed by the regime of Xi Jinping.

The State Department’s abrupt order shutting down the Chinese Consulate in Houston this week is a case study in Mr. Trump’s counterproductivity. It will inevitably lead to the permanent closure of a comparable U.S. mission in China — probably in Wuhan, where the covid-19 epidemic originated. That will reduce channels of communication and diminish U.S. understanding of China’s domestic situation, while doing next to nothing to address the offensive activities of the Xi regime, from its crackdown in Hong Kong to its attempts to spy on Americans and steal U.S. technology.

South China Sea Showdown: Here's How America Is Trying To Contain China In Its Own Backyard

South China Sea showdownRecent US diplomatic and military moves in the Pacific theater are conveying a strong message to both friends and foes that Washington is determined to preserve the hegemonic status the United States has enjoyed since the end of World War II. The latest confirmation is the addition of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Both the PDI and other US actions are implicitly directed against one target: the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Over the past decade, and especially during President Donald Trump’s administration, the perception has grown within America’s political and policy elites that China is no longer a constructive economic and diplomatic partner. Instead, officials see Beijing as a strategic competitor at best and an outright adversary at worst.

That mounting mistrust of Beijing has several sources. US military leaders have watched with growing unease for years as the PRC’s military budget ballooned and funds were directed disproportionately to the development of sophisticated anti-ship missiles and other anti-access, area denial systems. The primary purpose of such programs was to raise the cost severely to the United States if Washington sent its air and naval forces to defend Taiwan or otherwise interfere with PRC strategic goals in waters near China. An increasingly bold foreign policy agenda has accompanied Beijing’s new military muscle.

Pompeo’s Surreal Speech on China

speech on chinaSecretary of State Mike Pompeo gave one of the most surreal speeches of the Donald Trump presidency at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, on Thursday. In his speech, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future,” he declared the failure of 50 years of engagement with China and called for free societies to stand up to Beijing.

I am sympathetic to the argument. I wrote a book in 2017 about how Western hopes that China would converge with the liberal international order have failed. I have argued for almost two years that when Trump leaves office, the United States should put the free world at the center of its foreign policy.

US, China Play Dangerous South China Sea Game

US China playThe South China Sea, through which an estimated third of global seaborn commerce travels every year, is becoming one of the world’s flashpoints with China and the United States having chosen it as the seaborne arena in which to assess each other’s strength at a time when Trumpian pre-election rocket-rattling can’t hurt at the polls.

Certainly, China has stirred considerable irritation not just with the US, which sees its waning clout being tested, but among the littoral nations as well. Reports of foul play, human rights abuses and trafficking of Indonesians have lately put a new spotlight on the activities of Chinese fishing vessels.

Trump’s Reelection Woes, Not Policy, Are Root of Escalating China Tensions

policies woesThe Trump administration on Tuesday demanded that China close down its consulate in Houston, Texas, which officials say was serving as a hub for espionage and influence operations, within 72 hours. With the deadline quickly approaching, Beijing announced retaliatory measures on Friday, demanding that the U.S. shutter its consulate in Chengdu. This is a major escalation in the already tense standoff between Washington and Beijing, but as Trump looks to bolster his faltering reelection campaign by pumping up his base with anti-China rhetoric, escalating tensions may be precisely the point.

David R. Stilwell, who leads the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the New York Times that the Houston consulate, the first Beijing opened in the U.S. after relations were established in 1979, had a history of engaging in “subversive behavior.” Stilwell offered no details, but the Times also cited a document showing that multiple FBI investigations were centered on the consulate. The offenses alleged in these probes include attempting to steal medical research and other sensitive information, as well as a talent-poaching strategy to lure dozens of local researchers and academics to Chinese institutions.

As Vietnam takes more assertive approach to South China Sea, Beijing tries to manage tensions

As VN takes more assertiveBeijing is carefully managing its relationship with Vietnam after the United States took a harder line on the South China Sea dispute and rejected most of its claims in the strategic waterway as “unlawful” this week.

Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs Luo Zhaohui discussed South China Sea issues with his Vietnamese counterpart Le Hoai Trung on Thursday, according to the Foreign Ministry, which did not provide further details.

The Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) said on Friday that it would lend US$100 million to the Vietnam Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank to help the bank expand lending to private businesses disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The South China Sea, through which one-third of global shipping passes, has been subject to decades of overlapping territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The sea is also believed to contain major reserves of natural gas and oil.

The United States Has Gotten Tough on China. When Will It Get Strategic?

The US has gotten toughOn Wednesday, the New York Times reported the Trump administration is weighing a ban on all members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and their families from traveling to the United States. We do not know the full details of the proposal, and we do not need to. The move, however it might eventually be worded or implemented, would be a mistake.

Several flaws with the plan are immediately obvious:

There is no public membership list, so there is no way of knowing for certain who is a CCP member and who is not. How could an individual prove they are not a member of the CCP?

There are nearly 92 million CCP members, yet less than 8 million serve in party or government organs, meaning the vast majority of members have no meaningful connection to policy decisions. The single biggest occupational category of party membership is “farmers, fishermen, and cattle workers.”

The Australian “dilemma” when it comes to cooperation with the US

BaselineThough Australia has no sovereignty claim in the South China Sea, given its location in the South Pacific, the nation has very practical benefits in this region. Therefore, in recent years, Canberra has increased strong statements and actions, unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally, to protect its interests amidst complicated developments in the South China Sea.

According to experts, Australia’s major benefits include: 1/ The geostrategic proximity of the South China Sea to the South Pacific; 2/ Australia's geopolitical importance and its increasing “Asian-oriented” thinking in the 21st century; 3/ the interwoven relationship of Australia's interests and strategies with Asia-Pacific countries, of which the relationships between Canberra and ASEAN, and powers like the US and China, are the most important.

That is not to mention the economic benefits related to the South China Sea, which alone deserve Australia’s special attention. Given that over 60% of its annual exports and 40% of imports pass via the area, Australia has to be particularly interested in free trade and freedom of navigation in the region.

A Feast to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the PCA South China Sea Ruling

PCADifferent from the last three years, this year is marked with the high-profile 4thanniversary of the PCA South China Sea Ruling. Various events to praise the rule of law in the South China Sea took place.

1. The ‘feast’ begins with a message from the Philippines Foreign Secretary on July 12th 2020. July 12th was the exact day four years ago when The Hague Tribunal issued a ruling rejecting China’s sovereignty claims over most of the South China Sea.

In his message, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stated that the PCA South China Sea Ruling 2016 was “non-negotiable”, and called for China’s serious compliance with the ruling. Mr Locsin also underscored that the ruling “conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea… under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS)”.

By adducing China’s acts in violation of international law cited by the Tribunal, including massive reclamation and construction of artificial features in the South China Sea with severe environmental impacts, Mr Locsin stressed the Tribunal’s conclusion that certain actions of China within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and “were thus unlawful”.

US’ tougher stance on the South China Sea is part of Trump’s re-election campaign

US tougher stance on the south china sea isThe United States finally said what the world already knew: China’s claims in the South China Sea have no legal basis. It took four years after an international tribunal ruled on the issue. This raises the question why, with only six months left in the current administration, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made this declaration now?

Two reasons stand out – US President Donald Trump campaign’s attempt to bolster its tough-on-China credibility ahead of the upcoming presidential election, and galvanising the growing regional distrust of China to reassert the US as a regional power. If Beijing misreads either of these powerful political forces and provokes a confrontation, its geopolitical overreach will face a backlash that has long been brewing in the region.

With US election season in full swing, Trump attack ads air daily in battleground states with hundreds of millions of dollars in play. The campaign has decided to use China as one of several lines of attack against Trump’s opponent Joe Biden. It’s going to be a tough sell.

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