by Lincoln Institute | May 23, 2019

He may not quite be Rodney Dangerfield, but President Donald Trump nonetheless gets no respect from
most of the media, especially what I like to call “the commentariat.” That is, the almost uniformly liberal
voices of commentary in most of the major media, especially major newspapers. There is, however, a
small exception, and it’s a critically important one: the liberal media and their fellow ideologues in
Congress are grudgingly commending President Trump for his China policy. I don’t mean just his trade
policy. Also his foreign policy, and within that, his military policy. And the first place to look to find this
anomaly of approval is the New York Times.

Just in the past week, longtime New York Times columnist Tom Friedman commented, and I quote,
“Trump’s instinct that America needs to rebalance its trade relationship with Beijing … is correct. And it
took a human wrecking ball like Trump to get China’s attention.” Donald Trump is what marketers calls a
“disrupter.” That’s a new player who completely changes a particular market. Apple’s iPhone and Uber’s
ride service are examples of disrupters. Once each of them had entered the smartphone and taxi
markets, respectively, they completely changed those markets.

There are plenty of policy areas where a disrupter is the last thing that is needed. But in the case of China, both in trade and foreign policy, only a
disrupter like Trump could change the otherwise inevitable loss of US global influence and its
replacement by China’s global influence. I am reminded of Napoleon’s famous remark about China: “Let
China sleep. When she awakens, the world will be sorry.” China is no longer sleeping. She began to
awaken about 50 years ago. But the world does not yet realize that the danger that she poses. Napoleon
understood it in theory. Donald Trump appears to understand it in reality. Trade and foreign policy are
deeply intertwined.

To put this complicated relationship in the simplest, even simplistic terms, we have become financially
dependent on a relationship with a potential adversary. In trade, we have outsourced a stunning
percentage of our national manufacturing capacity to China, especially our high-tech manufacturing. We
can buy shirts, shoes, toys and tools from anywhere, so China poses no existential threat in those
product lines. But if our high-speed Internet, microwave communications and mobile phone and
wireless networks are both critical and largely made by a potential adversary, there is an existential
threat. And if that potential adversary also holds the largest single portion of our national debt and
currency, then the existential threat posed by that adversary is even greater.

Germany has had a long record of manufacturing excellence, especially in products requiring precise
engineering. Should we have bought radios for our ships and planes from German manufacturers during
the Second World War if the German radios were less expensive or more modern, or both? The mere
mention of it is preposterous. Of Course not. So should we buy 5G networking equipment from China at
the present time? Obviously, we are not engaged in a military confrontation with China right now, so
the next question to be examined is whether such a confrontation is likely.

China’s economy is heavily dependent on shipping, most of which travels by sea. Is China likely to
challenge the US for dominance on the seas? The world largely supports the US role as the global
guarantor of free navigation. The Chinese do not. Their actions with the Sprattly Islands and their newly-

created artificial islands are useful only for their military value. The Chinese will claim vastly greater
territorial limits – limits that are meaningful only in military terms. The islands are of virtually no
economic value. The construction of artificial islands is an environmental disaster. Their sole value lies in
their ability to give the Chinese a larger territory that it can call its own and then use its vastly-expanded
blue water Navy to control access to that territory. President Trump regularly challenges those potential
claims by ordering the US Navy to conduct exercises in the disputed waters. It’s the kind of show of
strength that appeals to him, and we are fortunate as a nation and, for the matter, as a world that he
does. The US Navy’s goal is to ensure freedom of the seas. The Chinese goal is quite obviously different,
or their new Navy would not be required. It’s dominance.

Trump’s threats of tariffs to force greater trade concessions from the Chinese is the most effective
initiative in the last quarter-century with the potential to check China’s mercantilism and militarism.
Even Democrats in Congress support it. The President deserves our thanks and praise.