The Corner

Politics & Policy

Bolton Questions Whether Trump Will Keep Tough China Measures in Place

Former national security adviser John Bolton speaks during a press briefing at the White House, November 27, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Speaking virtually at the Aspen Security Forum Tuesday, former national-security adviser John Bolton reprised his previous criticisms of President Trump’s approach to China, expanding on a recent op-ed in which he predicted that the recent series of policies targeting the country would disappear after the election.

Since leaving the administration, Bolton has been a constant Trump critic. In his book about working for Trump, he leveled bombshell allegations about Trump’s attitudes toward China, alleging that Trump told Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping that he approves of China’s detention facilities in Xinjiang, where over one million Uighur Muslims have been imprisoned arbitrarily. According to Bolton, Trump also encouraged Xi to purchase more soybeans and wheat to improve his political prospects heading into 2020. Trump has denied the allegations.

During the Aspen conference, Bolton shared some more thoughts about Trump’s attitudes on trade with China, arguing that the president’s focus on a trade deal with China led him to overlook Beijing’s behavior in other areas:

But the trade deal was close to being an obsession, and you’ll remember that in the early days of the coronavirus concern in this country as the staff at the NSC, the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere were raising red flags, Trump didn’t want to hear any bad news about China. He didn’t want to hear any bad news about Xi Jinping, that they were concealing the extent of the pandemic in China, engaging in an international disinformation campaign.

Despite this, Bolton acknowledged that the Trump administration has recently enacted a raft of measures targeting the CCP for, among other things, its activities in the South China Sea, Hong Kong crackdown, and repression of the Uighurs, but he questions whether this will continue in a second term:

But most of the criticism [of China] is coming from his other senior advisers. The steps he’s taking, signing legislation to authorize sanctions for the Chinese repression of the Uighurs, simply reaffirms authority he already has and can be rescinded, as can the other steps. This is why the removal of the political guardrail of the need to be re-elected I think leaves the field open to Trump in a second term to do pretty much what he wants. Don’t get me wrong, every one of these tough steps that you’ve outlined, I support. And I ask the question, why didn’t this start in January of 2017?

While this White House has enacted some of the toughest measures against China of any recent administration, it’s also true that officials dragged their feet on certain policies, such as sanctions targeting Beijing’s concentration camps in Xinjiang, for fear of disrupting the trade talks.

Following the implementation of Phase One of the trade deal between the two countries six months ago, officials are meeting on or around August 15 to evaluate progress toward the commitments set out in the agreement. Despite the downturn in U.S.–China relations, the South China Morning Post reports that negotiators are in constant contact. Meanwhile, former vice president Joe Biden has made the negotiations a campaign issue, saying in a statement yesterday that “Trump’s ‘phase one’ trade deal is failing — badly.”

It’s unlikely in this political environment that Trump would roll back the recent measures responding to China’s actions before November, but it might be too early to dismiss the prospects of progress on the trade deal, especially if Trump wins reelection. If he remains serious about preserving Phase One and getting Phase Two guarantees from the Chinese side to enact structural economic changes, this would likely require a more conciliatory American posture toward the CCP.

What Trump will do about China in a second term — and what Biden might do in a first term, for that matter — is anyone’s guess.

Most Popular

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More