Has anyone ever called the Chinese ‘stupid’? Not those guys.
So now they’re reading President Trump, and unlike the childish Eurotrash of western Europe, they see a shrewd, wily, chess-playing, Sun Tzu-grade genius, who could easily checkmate them, and they’ve got a lot of reasons for thinking so.
That’s the report from a European policy-domo, who actually went to Beijing and asked the local leaders what they were seeing. The report that European Council of Foreign Relations President Mark Leonard gives, in the Financial Times, is well worth the subscription or trial subscription to read it. Some of his thoughts from the pice can be read on Instapundit, however. Here’s a bit of what Glenn Reynolds posted:
I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician. . . .
Few Chinese think that Mr Trump’s primary concern is to rebalance the bilateral trade deficit. If it were, they say, he would have aligned with the EU, Japan and Canada against China rather than scooping up America’s allies in his tariff dragnet. They think the US president’s goal is nothing less than remaking the global order.
They think Mr Trump feels he is presiding over the relative decline of his great nation. It is not that the current order does not benefit the US. The problem is that it benefits others more in relative terms. To make things worse the US is investing billions of dollars and a fair amount of blood in supporting the very alliances and international institutions that are constraining America and facilitating China’s rise.
In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington.
Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong.
My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping.
“Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.
Wow. So the Chinese watched the Trump dramas in Quebec and Singapore and Brussels and Helsinki closely, and drew their own conclusions as to what was going on from them.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as Sun Tzu used to say. The slaparound of Justin Trudeau in Canada, the rapprochement with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the second slaparound at NATO headquarters in Belgium and the lovefest with Vladimir Putin in Finland had quite an effect in China, where the locals recognized the dictum in action.
What a coincidence, Trump just happens to be a student of Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese strategist, who wrote “The Art of War.”
Apparently, the Chinese didn’t see a madman (and being pals with Kim, don’t think the Chinese aren’t well-experienced with so-called madmen) the way the Europeans and the U.S. left did. They saw a power player, someone intent on taking down the world order that the U.S. pays full freight on, yet gets very little from.
After all, who cleaned up after the Iraq War was fought, (with U.S. blood and treasure, along with its dragged-along, unwilling allies), and then got all the oil? The Chinese, of course.
Naturally, that means that up until now, they’ve considered the U.S. a sucker. Note that the Chinese guy Leonard quotes is the very Chicom, now-former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei, who had fun browbeating President Obama openly in Copenhagen a few years ago, and Obama just took it.
He’s not talking the same way about Trump.
They see Trump as breaking up the multilateral institutions of the post-war order that so stiff the Americans, and then holding out for a better deal for the U.S. on them, which does kind of make sense. After all, Trump is saying that’s his idea in the trade war back and forths, over tariffs and pacts.
Maybe President Trump is doing this instinctively, or maybe he’s doing it with a plan in mind, something that makes the Trump-haters laugh. (Recall though, that his earlier policy guru, Steve Bannon, did focus intently on China.)
What’s clear though, is that the Chinese have a healthy respect for the U.S. now, and don’t focus on mannerisms the way the Eurotrash and their mannerist leftist U.S. allies do, just the actual substance of Dealing with Trump.
Was it Sun Tzu or someone who noted the importance of persuading your adversaries that you are more powerful than you may appear to be?