Friday, April 5, 2019

Committee on Present Danger

This piece was first posted on Asia Times.

Trump’s China Policy is the Real Present Danger to America

A cohort of geriatric warriors in Washington has resurrected an old organization first established when Eisenhower was the US President. It was called the Committee on Present Danger.

The first CPD consisted of a blue panel of patriots formed to warn the Federal government and the American public of the threats of the Soviet Union and spreading international communism.

After most of the members were appointed to serve in the Eisenhower Administration, the CPD dissolved. Some years later, a second iteration followed by a third came along. Each with different roster of members and emphasized a different danger to national security. Technically, these were not direct descendants of the original CPD.

Committee on Present Danger: China

The latest and fourth iteration was formally introduced at a two-hour press conference held last week. The organizers didn’t just borrow the name but modified it by calling it the Committee on Present Danger: China. The obvious intent was to drill down and focused on the danger China represents to America.

A parade of speakers went to the podium to state their case on why China is such a threat to American national security. Every imaginable and unimaginable threats were described. Some were blatant exaggerations and some so outlandish as to be humorous.

Here are some samples of accusations that made this group look wacky.

“China has 3000 miles of harden tunnels to move their missiles around.” Hard to know the basis for this statement. We know that American intelligence has actually visited China’s nuclear weapon development center, but thousands of miles of harden tunnels? Perhaps the speaker heard of the tunnel near the Tiananmen Square, which have been converted into restaurants and a place to get away from summer heat. And he “extrapolated” into 3000 miles.

Another speaker said one indication of lack of personal freedom in China was that 1.4 billion of Chinese citizens have no Internet access, implying they suffered from information deprivation. Apparently, this speaker did not know that more than 800 million Chinese carried smart mobile phones and enjoy a lot better access than people in America.

Another claimed that China has been terrifyingly effective in influencing the minds of the American public such as via movies made in Hollywood with Chinese investments. He practically suggested that Americans have become brainwashed Manchurian candidates. Even the Washington Post has become a mouthpiece for Beijing, he went on to proclaim.

American cities bombed out

China has been so effective in moving jobs away that every American manufacturing city has been bombed out just like Germany was after WWII. As a result, the speaker went on, more Americans have died (he didn’t say how) than the total killed in Vietnam and WWII! (exclamation point is mine).

A retired general got so carried away when it was his turn to talk that he claimed China attempt to interfere with the US 1996 elections. He offered no elaboration or substantiation. Maybe he had Russia on this mind?

Despite all that, the convener of the conference emphasized that CPDC was nonpartisan and the reconstituted organization was for the purpose of informing the American public of the dangers China represent.

Steve Bannon was credited as one of the movers behind the new version of CPD. Curiously, he did not appear at the podium to speak. Perhaps he didn’t want to be seen with this motley collection.

However, Bannon’s handprint was evident as many speakers praised Donald Trump and his hardnosed approach to China, protestation of nonpartisanship notwithstanding. 

Rather than fade away, this band of old soldiers appears to be spoiling for one last glorious global war or perhaps just lining up to be appointees for the next round of vacancies in the Trump Administration.

Trump’s wrong-headed China policy

Alas for them, Trump is already executing a disastrous policy on China and needs no help. For instance, a retired general that spoke at the press conference claimed that China has penetrated every conceivable American institution that mattered, meaning every university, every high-tech company and even US intelligent agencies and embassies.

Trump’s remedy has been to deny or delay reentry for Chinese graduate students that went back to China for the summer break. This tactic certainly halted any imagined threats of penetration. But it also interrupted research projects at the universities and stopped any advances that would reinforce American leadership in science and technology.

Trump has pointed to the large trade deficit with China as an indicator of unfair trade practices and vowed to punish China with tariffs on imports from China. He repeatedly asserted that the tariffs would be good for America and narrow the trade gap.

Instead the US trade deficit, based on figures for the last year, was higher than ever with the world and specifically with China. Obviously, he doesn’t understand how global trade is supposed to work.

US trade negotiator Lighthizer has been most vociferous accusing China of wanton intellectual property theft. If China had only depended on stealing and copying, how does one explain advanced 5G telecommunication technology from Huawei? 

Huawei has been offering 5G around the world with capabilities far more advanced than their nearest competitors. Despite Washington’s vigorous efforts to suppress and stymie Huawei, the company’s worldwide sales broke through $100 billion for the first time.

Trump has put US allies in a quandary. Do they accede to American pressure and give Huawei a pass or do they jump in and install the latest enabling technology? 5G means leaps in mobile computing, Internet of things, autonomous driving, and remote medical diagnosis, to name a few. Can any modern economy afford to pass 5G just to appease Uncle Sam?

Pompeo’s conflicted contradiction

Same conflicted contradiction holds for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Secretary Pompeo goes around the world warning of China’s bogus deals and “predatory” financing. With nothing to offer as an alternative, other countries find Pompeo’s words hollow and hard to swallow.

China’s President Xi Jinping went to Europe last week and Washington pushed hard and urged the EU to stand with the US and resist China’s blandishments.

Italy became the first to value China’s investments over Pompeo’s empty rhetoric. Thus, Italy became the first of G7 countries to sign on and partner with China as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Paris was next stop for Xi, where President Macron vowed that France would stand with all the members of EU in solidarity to China. Then an order for 300 Airbuses dazzled Macron. France did not sign the Belt and Road Initiative but did agree to $45 billion worth of deals with China and promised close multilateral collaboration.

The reality is that China has been going around the world offering to finance and help build infrastructure projects with the third world countries in Africa and Latin America. With developed economies, China offered to collaborate on investments and trade. China’s emphasis is more friendly relations, not military bases.

China works within a multi-polar world and building a coalition of nations with shared economic interests. Unlike with the US, no one nation has dominance over another.

China has consistently worked within the confines of the United Nations and not in spite of the UN. And China has shown no inclination to displace the US as the world hegemon except in overworked imagination of CGDC.

Truth of the matter is that Trump’s America First policy, unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Accord, reduced spending on international diplomacy and many other self-inflicted body cuts have earned general disrespect and eroded America’s stature as the world’s leader.

The real present danger to America is the failure of their leaders to recognize that the world is no longer a unipolar one with the US sitting on the apex. To insist that the US must win, and China must lose is unrealistic. China would not accept such an outcome and American persistence will surely lead to tragic lose-lose outcomes.

Clearly, it’s in the US national interest to work with China and find win-win accommodations. 

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