CAMBRIDGE – Some of US President-elect Donald Trump’s nastiest attacks have been directed at China. He has accused it of “raping” the United States with its trade policies, and of creating global warming as a “hoax” to undermine US competitiveness. Why, then, are many Chinese policy advisers and commentators sanguine about future US-China relations?
The reasoning seems to be that Trump is a businessman, and, to paraphrase US President Calvin Coolidge, the business of China is business. China, the thinking goes, can work with a swashbuckling deal-maker like Trump better than with a supposedly “ideological” Hillary Clinton.
Many people would be surprised to see Clinton categorized as an ideologue. And there is scant evidence to support the claim that businesspeople somehow embody pragmatism, given that so many powerful US business leaders are committed ideologues. The Koch brothers, for example, stubbornly cling to impractical and thoroughly debunked libertarian ideas, and numerous Fortune 500 CEOs instinctively side with Republicans, even though the US economy consistently performs better under Democratic administrations. And one should not forget Andrew William Mellon’s infamous and reckless advice to former US President Herbert Hoover on the eve of the Great Depression: “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate.”
The revelation that Trump and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan spoke by telephone has probably now shattered any residual hope that the incoming US administration will be anything but a bull in a China shop. That phone call violated a protocol – avoidance of direct contact between the US and Taiwan at the presidential level – that American presidents from both parties have carefully observed for four decades.