Trump Moves to Slay the Chinese Dragons
Dragons are on everyone’s mind this week. Paralleling the climax of Game of Thrones, a far more high stakes game (with real dragons) is taking place with consequential stakes for America. Trump is hunting Chinese dragons.
The Chinese play the ancient game of GO, a very complex struggle of building strength, deception, misdirection, capturing territory, and unexpectedly squeezing your opponent to death. It has on the order of 10 to the 80th variations (as opposed to the “simpler” Chess favored in Russia and Middle East at 10 to the 28th, or the least complex American Checkers at 10 to the 20th). Yet Trump is the first President in generations to take on the complex Chinese strategy and to understand America is playing a serious opponent whose leaders seek our downfall. With his tough trade stance, strengthened alliance with Japan, growing military budgets in the US and NATO, and moving the Pacific Fleet to more directly challenge North Korea and China, he has slammed his fist on the Chinese GO board and swept the pieces to the floor, creating an entirely new game.
It is certainly reminiscent of when Reagan swept the defeatist Détente policy of Kissinger and Ford off the Russian chess table and committed America to defeat the Soviets, which happened in short order. The Chinese are more durable, but a far more fair and balanced relationship can be reached and Trump is aiming for that.
Since 1949, China’s “super-Hawks,” ascendant with Xi Jinping, have been perusing the strategy Michael Pillsbury describes in detail in his book The Hundred-Year Marathon, China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as The Global Superpower. As with the “Dragon Queen” Daenerys Targaryen in the TV drama, they nurture a grudge against the West hundreds of years old and seek to regain their rightful place, ruling the world. And, as with the Dragon Queen, they are preparing for a scorched earth solution if necessary. It is a clear plan to defeat and subjugate the United States and represents a far greater threat than Russian aggression or Islamic terrorism. It frames a plan of growing economic and military strength, space and cyber warfare, industrial and military espionage, coercion and co-option of US institutions, disinformation, asymmetric warfare, and regional hegemony, all carefully veiled until the time to strike.
The Chinese adopt the Sun Tzu principles of look small and strike hard and have sucked military technology, as well as economic support from Russia and the US on that principle.
The Chinese use the principle of leveraging an enemy’s strength to defeat itself in a game it doesn’t even know it’s playing. Silicon Valley tech titans, eager to make money and play the great game on the world stage, give China the systems to repress its own people, as well as to undermine American interests.
The Chinese encourage enemies to fight themselves. As Trump takes a hard line against unbalanced trade, military coercion, and technology theft, there is the usual pressure from “market watchers” and “China hands” who don’t want to rock the boat. Certainly companies who make money in China are of this view as well as the many academic and research programs China has endowed for political leverage and to pilfer information and technology. And, of course, the rabid media look for any scent of Trump “mistakes” or weakness. But Trump seems more resistant to caving to this pressure than previous Presidents and is negotiating from a strong position.
China has many old sayings, but good ones from the West are that all political and war strategies are only good until the first shot is fired, and that all complex political strategies are subject to the Law of Unexpected Consequences. Trump has become that unexpected consequence. Trump seems to instinctively understand the Chinese (and Russian, North Korean, and Iranian) game(s) and has created a new, multi-dimensional game of his own.
He created trade agreements with the EU, Mexico, and Canada, allowing him to take on the Chinese with less “friendly fire.” Responding to North Korean aggression, Trump has deployed serious Naval power to the North Korean and Chinese theater and strengthened the alliance with Japan and the ASEAN countries, providing good leverage for negotiating with the Chinese.
All systems have seeds of instability. The Chinese system, forced to suppress its own people as well as minorities (e.g., Muslim Uighurs), amounting to have hundreds of millions, has ever greater potential for uprising. Trump’s strategy pits the Chinese pragmatists and moderates, seeking accommodation with America, against Xi Jinping and the super-hawk Dragons, seeking domination. It argues that strategic economic and military balance between China and the US is the key to long term peace and prosperity for both countries.
It shocks me to string the following words together, but: Trump, our first legitimate billionaire President, with little interest in the opinion of the Council on Foreign Relations or the diplomatic community, appears to have assembled a foreign policy based upon effective negotiation that has defended and advanced American interests to a much greater degree than the last four Presidents. Call it the Trump Doctrine. Game on.