What Nixon and every president since — save President Trump — has done, or at least acquiesced in doing, is the catapulting of the People’s Republic of China to peer superpower status with the United States. Even as we watch, President Xi Jinping is playing “the Russia card” against America, in the reverse image of the events of 50 years ago. This week, Russia flipped the switch on the new “Power of Siberia” gas pipeline from the Far East of Vladimir Putin’s country to the heart of Xi’s.
Despite its extensive oil reserves, Russia may not just be “Saudi Arabia with trees,” as some have called it, given the old Soviet Union’s nuclear capabilities being modernized by Putin. But Russia’s ailing demographics limit it to second-tier superpower status, akin to that of the other members of the nuclear club not named the United States or the PRC.
What Trump has done, in his nearly three years in office, is fundamentally to redefine the U.S.-China relationship by emphasizing what my radio colleague Dennis Prager first gave voice to as a general rule for competing interests: “Clarity before agreement.”
Trump has clarified a great deal about China and its ambitions. The 45th president has also clarified — especially for Big Tech but also for all providers of goods and services to China, including the NBA — that there are deep differences between the value sets held in Beijing and those in Washington, differences that need to be recognized and understood.
Recent weeks have brought new and intense scrutiny to Xi’s mandates regarding the China’s Uighur minority. For months, the world has watched the perilous push by Hong Kong protesters for the preservation of the “one country, two systems” guarantees given them (and the world) by Xi’s predecessors. And the West generally, and Americans specifically, are at long last fully awake to the reality that China’s Communist Party has not joined any “end of history” long march toward freedom that inevitably results in an appreciation of liberty and natural law.
What Trump — with the assistance of popular and crucial books such as Henry Kissinger’s “On China,” Graham T. Allison’s “Destined for War” and Michael Pillsbury’s “The Hundred-Year Marathon” — has made clear is that the competition with China, though not a Cold War 2.0, is very much an all-out battle for leadership. Its fronts encompass every field of technology, weaponry, Information Age data and artificial intelligence, and cultural and international norms.
This is as significant a breakthrough as Nixon’s in 1972, though of a completely different order. In 1972, the world welcomed China back into the community of nations, though not perhaps with the appropriate amount of recognition of the vast dislocations wreaked upon it by the Western powers and Japan for more than a century before then. Now, with China no longer “rising” but risen, a new era is in front of us, one that Trump has ushered in with typical Trumpian bluster and bluntness but with great effectiveness.
Given China’s ambitions and its array of tactics in the service of Xi’s grand strategic vision of it as the dominant country on the planet, Trump has done even his fiercest critics a great service: He is obliging them to consider China, in every aspect of life, on every stage, in every conversation. It is now incumbent on the men and women who would replace Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to declare their own China policies, and to do so in great detail.
The Democrats have avoided talking about China much, possibly because they don’t want to upset their Silicon Valley funders, who would prefer that China remain just another market — albeit a very large one — instead of a strategic competitor not just with America but with the very idea of ordered liberty. Democrats also hate to acknowledge the good things Trump has done, including this infusion of long-needed clarity about Beijing.
It may not be Frankenstein’s monster, but China is a wholly new force on the planet, though one wrapped in an ancient culture and history. Democrats who would be president need to demonstrate that they have a plan, for Xi most certainly does.