The Chinese government is struggling to find a way to respond to the Trump administration’s pressure campaign which has thus far included the imposition of tariffs on about $250 billion worth of goods bought by the U.S., as well as additional diplomatic and military pressure, according to U.S. officials who spoke with Breitbart News.
Officials said that Beijing has been caught off-guard by President Trump’s tough trade stance. In addition, they say that China is working to keep its relationship with the Pentagon on good terms as well, keeping open lines of communication as the country faces increased tensions with other U.S. government agencies.
The news site reported that Chinese officials have increased their contacts with American defense officials in recent weeks. In addition, the government of President Xi Jinping has “been eager to send Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Washington before the end of the year,” according to a senior defense official.
“The Chinese are definitely eager to stay connected to the [Defense] department,” the official said. “President Xi is leaning forward with respect to maintaining the relationship with Mattis.”
The news site noted further:
The Chinese outreach is happening behind the backdrop of incidents that suggest growing military tensions between the two countries. American and Chinese warships recently had a close encounter in the South China Sea. And China’s cancelation of a security meeting with Mattis in Beijing prompted the Pentagon to scrap the trip entirely.
But U.S. defense officials say these events still fall within the realm of what the defense relationship has weathered in the past. They say what the Chinese are not used to, however, is President Trump’s pressure campaign against China on a number of fronts, on trade to intellectual property theft.
“China is sputtering. They’ve never been treated this way. Every administration in the past has always treated them with kid gloves,” the senior U.S. official said.
Analysis: This report is certainly a far cry from what we’ve been seeing in terms of how other U.S. and foreign media are covering the Sino-U.S. relationship. But there’s no reason to doubt its credibility because some of the particulars were publicly supported in the story and by noted China/Asia experts.
For instance, President Xi “has not reacted tactically or strategically,” Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, said at a conference last week hosted by his think tank. Lam is a well-known and respected China analyst.
He also said Xi’s response has caused doubt among some within the Chinese Communist Party who, Lam says, are concerned that he “does not have what it takes to parry.”
“It’s the most serious crisis faced by Xi Jinping in last six years,” Lam added.
Other analysts have also weighed in, noting that Trump’s economic and diplomatic pressure, combined with credible military force in Asia via the U.S. Navy and our allies, are having the desired effect.
Breitbart reported: “Dennis Wilder, managing director for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, said Chinese consumer confidence is down, car sales are down, the International Monetary Fund has predicted China’s gross domestic product could lower to 6.2 percent, and the Chinese Renminbi could fall 10 percent against the dollar if Trump raises tariffs on Chinese imports to 25 percent.”
Other analysts say the U.S., not China, has the edge in terms of the escalating ‘trade war.’ Given that, they are predicting that Trump and Xi will meet on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting next month in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
As to China’s outreach to the Pentagon, the senior U.S. official told the news site that it’s Beijing’s way of keeping channels of communication open. “It’s all they’ve got,” the official said.
But what about the near-collision of the U.S. and Chinese destroyers in the South China Sea in recent weeks? Isn’t that a sign that even the military-to-military relationship is breaking down? Not necessarily, U.S. officials note. They say that encounters like that are within the realm of what both countries have dealt with and weathered in the past. The difference now is Trump’s relentless pressure campaign.
“It’s an unprecedented attack on the China model,” said Lam. “Trump is playing the Taiwan card, he’s playing tough in the South China Sea. It’s a multi-pronged, multi-faceted attack. The response from China has not been very successful. The [People’s Republic of China] doesn’t have as many cards to play.”
If the assessments of these experts are accurate, and again there’s no reason at this point to believe that they’re not, the U.S. advantage over China is a lot more significant than what most American media have been reporting. That said, the U.S. still needs the Chinese market as well as Beijing’s help in ‘encouraging’ North Korea to continue down the path of denuclearization. So it’s not like Washington as all the cards, perhaps just more of them.