The American Presidency Is in Xi's Hands
Donald Trump may have done something brave that no recent president has come close to attempting by confronting China on trade via tariffs — or any other way for that matter. But in so doing, like it or not, he has placed his reelection in the hands of the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping. If Xi doesn't make a deal with Trump on trade, we are almost certainly headed for a recession (or worse) and Donald will be out the door.
After that, the deluge. (Take a look at that list of Democratic Party candidates if you think I'm exaggerating.)
On the other hand, a good or decent deal, and "four more years" almost becomes a certainty
Unnerving, isn't it, that the fate of our country is in the hands of a totalitarian? But that's the nature of our interconnected world when the most populous country (i.e., the biggest market) is a dictatorship. That gives China — a five-thousand-year-old culture with little sustained interest in democracy — the upper hand negotiating tariffs or anything else. They just have to wait us out. Xi, after all, is China's "paramount leader" for life (or until another bloodthirsty bureaucrat unseats him). Any American president has at most eight years, probably a lot less, to negotiate successfully.
You think the Chinese don't realize that? They are also undoubtedly fully aware of the open warfare going on in our political class, the Russia probe, etc., placing us in a weaker position still. If you follow the polls, you can bet they do.
Nevertheless, Trump did the right thing by playing the tariff card. What other way is there to get China to obey the rules on trade and intellectual property? Saying "please" just won't cut it. They'll nod their heads, say some version of "of course," and do as close to nothing as they can get away with. Fifteen or twenty years later someone will convene a committee.
Karl Rove was on Fox the other day suggesting an alternative — the hoary chestnut that we should make "common cause" with our European allies, particularly in the area of intellectual property. (C'mon, Karl... those Europeans?) To give Rove his due, he did say this approach would "take time" and it didn't seem that his heart was really in it.
It shouldn't have been. We're living a conundrum. We keep hearing that China is in worse straits than we are, that that is our advantage in negotiations, but is that really so? Financially, sure. China is probably still somewhat more vulnerable economically. But culturally? That's hard to say. In fact, there are many indicators that the West, in general, is in bad shape — the demonstrations in Paris are only one very recent indication. We have lost our sense of purpose. Students are running around our campuses blathering about "intersectionality" while in China they are studying engineering. (The other day David Goldman cited a scary statistic: China graduates four STEM bachelor's degrees to every one in the U.S.)