Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Xi-Trump Meet: the Farrago in Mar-a-Lago

Camphor is of the same genus as Cinnamon.

So my wife comes home today and proudly wins high fives all around with some Quick Thinking in the face of a scammer:
As she is exiting an ATM at the post office across from police station, a woman comes up to her.
"Are the ATM machines broken?" the woman asks.
"Sure, they are fine, no problem," my wife says.
"Which one did you use?"
"The one on the left, it's fine."
The woman's brows turned mean. "I just took out money and I was short a $1000 NT bill. You must have it," she accused.
My wife rose to the occasion. "There was a woman there before me, I am sure she has it."
I don't know what that has to do with Dictator Xi of China meeting President Trump of the US at Mar-a-Lago (Wiki), but I am sure your imaginations can make a connection. This meeting is set up for Thursday, and the world is on pins and needles, or perhaps Xanax, contemplating its possibilities.

Mar-a-Lago is a good choice. Xi will surely feel right at home in south Florida, where the population is geriatric, income inequality is high, and everyone lives in gated communities under constant surveillance.*

One thing that is different: the Obama Administration's deference to Beijing and its diffident, dilatory policies have been replaced by Trump's confident trolling. Roughly in tandem with the announcement of the meeting with Xi came the news that the US will announce a major arms sale to Taiwan in April. Trump then trolled China with the possibility of selling THAAD and F-35s to Taiwan (Japan Times). Trolling one's interlocutors with abusive announcements even as you are talking to them is a bog-standard Chinese tactic. I admit to being amused to see Trump hoist Beijing by its own rhetorical petard.

That said, everyone is quite nervous because the Chinese have realized that the need to cultivate the President's family, particularly his son-in-law, to make progress with the Trump Administration. Many articles on it this week -- this one from Josh Rogin is good -- and there's a collection of remarks from China/Taiwan waters at NBR if you are interested in political analysis as well as some fine remarks from Richard Bush -- but this remark pretty much summed it up:
It’s so great that the American political system resembles China’s political system enough for the Trump administration for have its very own princeling.
Drezner also noted:
But it is hard not to conclude that Trump and Kushner are spectacularly out of their depth on these issues. Worse, Trump displays no metacognition whatsoever: He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and probably never will. He and Kushner will therefore sell off core national interests and investments at cut-rate prices.
I don't believe Trump will sell off any fundamental American interests. What no one seems to have noticed about the deals that Trump makes is that he never pays. Trump's tactic is to troll some possibility, like THAAD for Taiwan, and use that as a vapor threat to extract concessions. He's not going to hand over assets when he can extract favors by trolling with them. After all, assets are only useful if you hold them.

Of course, China follows the exact same tactic. They troll and then don't pay. They don't give up assets, and they don't make deals that don't favor them. China follows agreements to the most minimal, stingy, letter of the law possible, if it follows them at all. If they make some investments in the US it will be purely cosmetic, and if they buy more exports it will go on loudly for a while until the program is quietly ended. The Middle Kingdom either fears you or accepts your submission, but it doesn't bargain with you, because in China, win-win means either way, I win.

Both sides are interested in appealing to domestic audiences, Xi to the CCP, Trump to his base. Thus, what will happen is that Trump will troll, Kushner's business interests will get quietly fed and watered by way of courtesy, nothing major will happen, China will sour on feeding the Trump family businesses sooner or later, and the quadrille of US-Japan-Taiwan-China relations will go on until China begins the war it is building toward. But at least the media has something to write about.

This point is made by a Chinese writer at the strongly pro-China East Asia Forum:
But the ecology surrounding the relationship between Beijing and Washington is still fragile. The past warns against predicting breakthroughs from the Florida summit. The number of times Xi met with Obama surpassed that of all their predecessors combined since 1971. While there is no evidence to conclude that bilateral ties worsened from those high-level meetings, there is still room for the relationship between China and the United States to improve.

This time round, ‘get tough on China’ is more the norm than the exception among US foreign policy protagonists. Many American pundits blame the Obama administration for having failed to ‘stand up to China’ on just about every issue area from trade and cyber security to North Korea and the South China Sea. Never mind the contrast between Obama’s declarations that ‘prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty’ in philosophising a strategic ‘pivot to Asia’, and Xi wondering why foreigners view China as a threat when his country no longer exports ideology or poverty.

Trump is therefore challenged to prove that the United States can, after all, stand up to China. Another group of Americans encourages Trump to live up to his own tweets about China. So far Trump and his team have chosen to resist the pressure.
Asian nations are also looking at this, and you know that Trump and Abe of Japan exchanged a few words about it. There are many many pressures in the international system shaping outcomes.

Taiwan? The US has promised to brief Taipei before and after the talks. Seems like business as usual.

This piece at the National Interest raises an interesting and even worrisome point: it's too early for a summit...
Lastly, the Trump administration itself is not ready for the summit. The Department of State lacks necessary personnel across the board, including a deputy secretary and assistant secretaries. Even though the administration is claiming that it is considering every measure on the table with regard to North Korean nuclear weapons, it lacks the capability to craft and implement policy. The Pentagon is in a similar situation, and one can only expect that the National Security Council is also overwhelmed with a myriad of fast-moving crises around the world. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Japan, Korea, and China has already proven that the upcoming presidential summit will not lead to any substantial accomplishment. In addition, messages from Trump and Tillerson conflict with one another.
The Trump Administration has been incredibly slow in getting people on board. Would be nice if some of those names that were mooted months ago finally made it on board.

*My Florida friend says wrong
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Anonymous said...

Korean war might heat up again:


Anonymous said...

"While the US has been breaking its military and its treasury in its stupid and criminal failure in Iraq, China has been on the march all over the world. If the US intervenes, Chinese markets might be closed to it for years afterwards, and Chinese allies hostile to its interests. Here’s a sobering thought for the Pentagon: we are more hated than China at the moment, and given the manifest incompetence and venality of our President, this will only get worse." -Michael Turton, View From Taiwan 2007

In 2007 this page referred to neocons as 'fruitcakes' and routinely described them as insane. I wonder why we're placing so much faith in the exact same fruitcakes now? Any ideas?