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Are the Democrats Risking War with China or Should the US Stand Up for Taiwan?
Some analysts fear China’s attack on Taiwan may draw the United States into war with China. Top Pentagon officials have warned Beijing may launch military operations this decade on Taiwan Strait or at other geopolitical flashpoints. A senior White House official covering Asian policy said last week China used U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to start ramping up a pressure campaign on Taiwan, jeopardizing peace and stability throughout the Taiwan Strait and broader region. The meeting comes less than two weeks after a U.S. House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, made a trip to Taiwan that triggered days of Chinese threatening military exercises, including missile launches over and into the Taiwan Strait.
China has accused the U.S. government of encouraging Taiwanese independence forces through its sales of military equipment to Taiwan and contacts with its officials. China’s growing military assertiveness over recent years, along with escalating levels of armed provocations throughout the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the Chinese periphery, has served only to bolster U.S. confidence that the island is a dedicated democratic partner worthy of support while seeking to defend Taiwan against Chinese efforts to force the island toward an undesirable unification with China. It remains the case that the most significant deterrent against an overwhelming Chinese military assault on Taiwan is Beijing’s alleged premise that a war with Taiwan will mean war with America.
Committing the Democratic Party to a military deterrence strategy along these lines taps into the fears, entirely rational, among anti-Chinese people that they are at risk of being strangled by American forces in their backyard, thereby risking open military conflict. Maintaining this hostile framework leaves the Democratic Party helpless to divert U.S.-China relations away from the current course of battle and catastrophe. A rising, expanding China that does not play by the rules is a top threat to American interests. The Democratic Party should not shrink from supporting an administration calling China’s misbehavior out or proposing reasonable steps to deal with it.
Democrats broadly agree that the U.S. needs to take decisive action on various fronts, from the military to trade to intelligence and diplomacy, to confront rising power. Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to characterize China as an adversary and describe Chinese power and influence as a primary threat to the United States. As has been consistent for the last few years, Republicans and independents who lean Republican tend to hold more negative views of China than Democrats and independents who depend on Democratic: 89% vs. 79%, respectively.
Most Republicans and independents also favor significantly less trade between the United States and China, although this would impose higher costs on American consumers, while Democrats are opposed. Republicans, by contrast, are more in sync with the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on China, viewing China as the main threat to the United States and supporting a range of policies designed to limit the economy, technology, and face-to-face trade between the two countries. Democrats have also maintained a vision that being anti-China is an economic threat to the United States and reaffirmed what they called structural economic issues that are the focus of the current trade war, including illegal subsidies and theft of intellectual property, while asserting that Donald Trump has, in reality, been too soft on protecting intellectual property rights.
Desperate to settle the trade war weighing down China’s economy, China has perceived a Democratic-led House as likely to mean a softer line toward Beijing. That puts Khanna and others at odds with moderate Democrats such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who believes that Chinese actions must be met with a firm American backstop.
President Donald Trump made Chinese competitiveness a significant part of his election campaign two years ago, and now, more than ever, trade is the story. Even before China’s recent escalation, seven-in-ten Americans were either very or somewhat concerned that a trade war with China would hurt their local economies. More than 60% now want the United States to reenter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement formed among 11 Pacific Rim countries after Trump pulled the United States out of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership. If there is any virtue in Trump’s trade policies, it is that Trump’s politics of demonizing China appear to remind Americans how much they benefit from trade.
The trade war between the United States and China, which President Donald Trump ignited midyear, has escalated steadily over the past few months and triggered tariffs on more than $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. The irony is that, three years after punitive tariffs were initiated to fix the U.S. trade deficit, bilateral trade between the United States and China has rebounded to record levels, with a growing Chinese trade surplus. In contrast, America’s debt has worsened.
So far, Trump voters appear to be sticking with Trump, even as they are paying for his policies. Still, let us say that his failure to strike a trade deal starts to damage America’s economy as a whole. In this scenario, his China policies will be political vulnerabilities, not strengths — and the Democratic Party needs nothing to do with them. If President Donald Trump’s demand for support from Congress on his China policies continues, Democrats have shown little sign that they will stand in his way. The October 1st remarks by U.S. vice president Mike Pence marked the start of an aggressive new policy towards China, leading to talks of a new cold war.
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