WASHINGTON – China is not an enemy of the United States, and giving that impression is ill-advised and risks fuelling nationalistic hawks in China, Dr Michael Pillsbury, author of the 2015 book The 100 Year Marathon told an audience in Washington on Thursday (July 25).
Speaking at the Atlantic Council, Dr Pillsbury pushed back against 100 former ambassadors, scholars and officials who on July 3 wrote to the Washington Post saying the administration’s adversarial approach to China was “fundamentally counterproductive”.
The letter argued that the Trump administration was treating China like an enemy, and this risked fuelling nationalism in China. Dr Pillsbury argued that it was not – and suggesting that it was, would itself fuel nationalistic hawks in China.
“President Trump has been harshly criticised by people who think they know what his China policy is, but their assessment is not accurate,” he said. “Not once has any Trump administration official used the word ‘enemy’.”
“On hot-button issues like Hong Kong, if the President was going to treat China in an adversarial way, he would certainly say something to endorse these demonstrations; actually he said the opposite,” added Dr Pillsbury.
President Trump this week said China’s President Xi Jinping had acted responsibly in the face of protests in Hong Kong against a proposed Bill that would have allowed extradition to the Chinese mainland.
President Trump had also stuck to the United States’ “one China” policy on Taiwan, Dr Pillsbury said.
“President Trump has not done a lot to help Taiwan the way so many conservatives wanted him to” in order to avoid upsetting and angering China, he said.
And he had not invited the Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader in exile of the Tibetan people – to the White House.
Dr Pillsbury, 74, who reads and speaks Chinese, was a senior government official in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, and is currently a senior fellow and director for Chinese Strategy at the conservative Hudson Institute.
His book, subtitled “China’s secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower”, is seen as one of the ideological drivers of the administration’s approach to China, and he is an informal adviser to the President.
“The main competition is unfair trade practices, technology theft, tolerating subsidies, allowing China into the WTO (World Trade Organisation),” he said.
“What happens when people demonise President Trump’s views, or if they focus on the views of Steve Bannon, who has been out of office now for almost two years, this gives a false perception of what President Trump is trying to do.”
Former Trump chief strategist Bannon has been on lecture tours drumming up the threat from China.
Dr Pillsbury said if Beijing perceives that America is treating it like an enemy, it would fuel nationalistic fervour and the answer would be much harsher measures from China, which they had not resorted to so far.
“The possibility of a descent into war does exist,” he acknowledged. But limiting competition in key areas would limit that possibility.
In fact, America is dealing with China from a position of weakness, he contended.
There was a lot of goodwill for China in America and around the world, he said. Globally, anti-Americanism was actually more prevalent than anti-China sentiment.
In America, government agencies had long been instructed to cooperate with China.
Even NASA wanted to work with China’s space programme, he recalled, but the Space Council in the White House scuttled that, saying there would be no cooperation because of a lack of trust.
There is no Nato-like alliance against China, he said, unlike Cold War alliances against the Soviet Union.
“We’re prepared for Russia to a much greater degree than we are for the challenge from our Chinese friends” he said.
At stake though is America’s position as No. 1 in the world, he said. By 2049, China is expected to be triple or more the size of the US economy.
“In those conditions, they will own us,” he said.
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