Donald Trump is saying that to “Make America Great Again” we have to get tougher on China and Japan. Each, he charges, has taken American jobs, especially China. In the case of Japan, we are obligated to defend them, but they have no obligation to defend us. And we do not charge them.
Marco Rubio is writing about “approaching Beijing on the basis of strength and example, not weakness and appeasement. …Beijing’s protectionist economic and trade policies increasingly endanger America’s financial well-being. China is also a rising threat to U.S. national security.”
Let us be clear: Both Trump and Rubio are both exaggerating and distorting reality. But between the two, what Rubio believes and advocates reveals a degree of ignorance, irrationality, paranoia, and bellicosity that would, if he became president (or, much more likely, vice president) be dangerous and potentially disastrous for the United States.
Between the two, Trump would be a vastly more effective and successful leader in relations with China. We can expect that the same would apply to Japan.
As pointed out last week by Forbes contributor Doug Bandow, Donald Trump “sees the People’s Republic of China primarily as an economic competitor.” He has had more negotiations with Chinese individuals, companies, and governments than all the other Republican candidates put together. It is reasonable to think that these negotiations were for the most part successful, or at least—when they resulted in business transactions–“win-win.”
Rubio’s mindset—displayed in an opinion piece in the August 27 The Wall Street Journal entitled “How My Presidency Would Deal With China”–seems to reject the possibility of “win-win” relations with China. Rubio sees a zero-sum game, in which pursuit by China of its national interests is “aggression” with directly and immediately threatening consequences for U.S. national security.
Writes Rubio, referring to the economic and trade policies, and also to government cyberespionage (a field in which the United States has long been by far the leading international practitioner): “President Obama has continued to appease China’s leaders despite their mounting aggression.”
A Rubio presidency, he suggests, would target China’s domestic policies and actions directed at domestic political dissidents and activists, internet controls, and the like for U.S. condemnation, retribution, or retaliation. He scorns Obama for having “hoped that being more friendly with China will make it more responsible. It hasn’t worked.”
Since “rounds of cordial dialogue with [China’s] rulers” have not produced “a change of heart,” Rubio calls for a downgrading of the state visit to Washington by Xi Jinping in September [pursuant to a formal invitation from the Obama administration] to a “working visit.”
“This is an opportunity to speak bluntly to this authoritarian ruler and achieve meaningful progress, not to treat him to a state dinner.”
Trump could not resist the opportunity for bombast on the same topic, but he should have done. His quip on the August 24 Fox News was obviously not serious:
“I’d get [Xi Jinping] a McDonald’s hamburger and I’d say we gotta get down to work, because you can’t continue to devalue [the Chinese currency]….”I would give him a very, yeah, but I would give him a double, probably a double size Big Mac.”
Trump’s case is that America’s leadership—that is, the politicians and officials in charge of making public policy, both globally and domestic, and in negotiating to advance U.S. interests—has been incompetent and feckless. In America’s foreign relations–economic, political, strategic-military–we have consistently made “bad deals”: giving up too much, getting little or nothing in return, being manipulated by other countries to serve their—rather than our—interests.
Trump makes this (in my view eminently defensible, if not irrefutable) case pointing to our defense alliances in Asia. We have guaranteed the security of both South Korea and Japan, but neither country is obliged to defend us. And we do this for free!
In the case of Japan, what Trump says is only half true. Over successive American administrations, the Pentagon has successfully wheedled and coaxed Japanese governments into paying directly the salaries of the many Japanese civilians employed on U.S. military bases as well as a host of other expenses, including, importantly, costs of relocating U.S. forces within and outside Japan. The cost is somewhere around USD 2 billion.
The irony is that getting the Pentagon has gotten used to the money from Tokyo, and in typical bureaucratic fashion, wants to keep it coming. Hence, even more resistance than would otherwise exist to down-sizing or withdrawing forces from Japan.
Trump, while complaining about the “deal,” stops short of pronouncing what is apparent: the both the Japanese and South Koreans are fully capable of defending themselves, and should do so. Any “deal” that keeps the U.S. in those countries is a bad deal for the United States.
Doug Bandow writes that Trump “obviously is not a deep thinker on foreign policy.” I would say that it is Rubio’s views that are superficial, when not simply talking points written by the Pentagon budget lobbyists. Rubio writes that “my first goal will be to restore America’s strategic advantage in the Pacific….We cannot allow our military readiness to atrophy while China’s strengthens.”
The fact is that there is absolutely no threat to that (Pacific) advantage. While China is improving its ability to counter American power in defense of its homeland and vital national interests, it is fraudulent to call this a threat to American strategic interests.
Rubio writes of “restoring America’s strategic strength in Asia” by “reinforcing ties with allies…to challenge any Chinese attempt to close off international waters or airspace.” China has never spoken of or threatened to “close off” or otherwise interfere with civilian passage in international waters or airspace.
“If China continues to use military force to advance its illegitimate territorial claims…I will not hesitate to take action,” declares Rubio. But then (in deference to Trump?) adds: “I will also promote collaboration among out allies, as America cannot and need not bear the full burden of counterbalancing China’s power.” In Asian territorial disputes, why are only China’s claims illegitimate?
It could hardly be clearer that if Trump is the anti-establishment, and particularly anti-vested interests candidate, Rubio is the opposite.
Rubio represents, on China, the interests of the military-industrial-congressional establishment, interests vested in confrontation, massive, continually rising arms budgets (indeed an accelerating arms race), and perpetual “forward deployment” of U.S. air and naval forces within long since obsolete and counterproductive “alliances” the main effect of which is keeping regional tensions high.
Donald Trump is his own man. He is the better man for America and for Asia.