President Trump has been criticized by the left for engaging in a trade war with China. Much of this war took the form of increased tariffs on Chinese imports. China, of course, responded with increased tariffs of their own and the cycle went back and forth. The left predicted that increased tariffs would decimate the US economy without considering the potential good that could come from it. President Trump has held the position that China has been taking advantage of the US in trading for many years and that the situation had to be rectified and could be rectified.
As it turns out, President Trump was correct. The US economy did not collapse but has grown even stronger and, most importantly, the Chinese have blinked and backed down somewhat. The President has announced that China has agreed to a Phase 1 trade agreement. As part of all this, China has announced that it will lower tariffs on 850 products this coming year. (1)
China and the United States cooled their drawn-out trade war earlier this month, announcing a Phase 1 agreement that would reduce some U.S. tariffs in exchange for more Chinese purchases of American farm products and other goods. (1)
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said China had agreed to buy $200 billion worth of additional U.S. goods and services over the next two years as part of the Phase 1 trade pact to be signed in early January. If the purchases are made, they would represent a huge jump in U.S. exports to China. (1)
To be sure, this is a small victory and it remains to be seen whether China will actually follow through and keep their word given that they routinely violate their pledges on all manner of issues. They are not the most trustworthy of nations – not even close. Their word is worthless.
Still, it demonstrates lessons that are applicable to our military relations with, and actions towards, China.
First and foremost, this demonstrates that China respects and responds only to strength. Conversely, accommodation and compromise are seen as signs of weakness and signals that the other party can be taken advantage of. This should suggest a course of action for our military. Instead of meekly allowing ourselves to be chased out of the South China Sea and chased away from Chinese naval forces in international waters, we should respond with resolution and a willingness, nay, eagerness, to engage and escalate. Despite fraudulent Chinese claims to the contrary, the South China Sea is international waters and we should stand our ground and respond to harassment in kind.
Instead of meek, worthless Freedom of Navigation cruises which only reinforce China’s territorial claims (see, "Freedom of Navigation vs Innocent Passage"), we should anchor a ship a hundred feet off each of China’s illegal artificial islands and dare them to do something about it – and be prepared to take forceful action in response.
Let’s also clearly understand that even if China follows through on their trade pledges, their concessions are in areas that benefit them. The reduced tariffs are on goods that they actually want to increase imports on. In other words, they’re willing to accept a small tactical retreat to gain a larger benefit.
Recognizing this, we can take advantage of it. We need to create situations in which the Chinese will accept small tactical retreats and, when they do, we need to solidify our gains and continually press for more. Enough small retreats eventually become an overall significant retreat.
For example, we should be pushing back hard on Chinese territorial fishing violations and look to force the Chinese to back off some of their attempts at illegal territorial expansion. We should increase naval visits to Taiwan and as soon as those become accepted then we should announce extended ‘visits’ which eventually become permanent basing. We should flood their excessive Air Defense Identification Zones with our aircraft and force them to continually respond to us until they reduce the size of their claims. I’m betting we can outlast them. We should have ‘spy’ ships (intel gathering) closely tailing all Chinese naval forces that put to sea (you’ll recall that the Chinese routinely ‘spy’ on the RIMPAC exercises). And so on.
The opportunities to push back and chip out small victories are endless. It only requires some fortitude on our part and a willingness to accept escalation if the Chinese wish it. We won’t be the ones to escalate but we should not be afraid of it – we should embrace it.
China respects strength and only strength as the trade war result proves. It is far past time to demonstrate our strength with military/naval actions.
Note: Because of the political aspects of this post, I’m not going to allow free comments because I don’t want to engage in political debates. That’s not the point of the post. So, instead, I’m going to moderate the comments for this post. Be warned … I will not allow political comments. If you wish to comment, confine it to the military implications.
(1)CNBC website, “China will lower import tariffs on over 850 products from January 1, finance ministry says”, 22-Dec-2019,https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/23/china-will-lower-import-tariffs-on-over-850-products-from-january-1.html