For a guy who boasted he was going to be tough on China, President Trump certainly is quiet about certain issues. It took a long time for Trump to speak about the protests and clashes in Hong Kong, and when he did, he declared, President Xi “is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.’ I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.” His administration keeps giving extensions for American companies to deal with Huawei, the Chinese smartphone company that Trump previously called a national security threat.
Trump boasts that he’s ordering American companies to look for alternatives to China, and he’s certainly instituting new tariffs on their imports. Over the weekend, the president claimed China called him up and asking to restart trade talks; the Chinese government claims those phone calls never occurred. The complaints from farmers are getting louder, and farm bankruptcies are on the rise. While it’s hard to get a good sense of what China’s leaders are really thinking, those who watch them closely contend Beijing’s rulers believe they can wait Trump out. The trade war hurts the American economy, which makes it less likely Trump will be reelected.
Very little of this is reassuring. But Trump indisputably sees China as an adversary, and he is determined, in his own erratic way, to make it easier for American products to reach Chinese consumers and to undermine China’s political and economic power in the region.
Not everybody is so clear-eyed about China. Bernie Sanders just declared, “what we have to say about China in fairness to China and it’s leadership is, if I’m not mistaken, they have made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization, so they’ve done a lot of things for their people.”
Back in 1985, Sanders defended bread lines: “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: The rich get the food, and the poor starve to death.” He’s always found the silver lining to the dark cloud of authoritarian regimes, but he rarely perceives American companies with such understanding or sympathy.