Competition with China can bring together Republicans and Democrats—and even inspire them to accomplish great things.
The televised bickering between President Trump and top Democratic leaders illustrates that, if political leaders find any consensus in 2019, it won’t be on the border wall. Nor is it likely that Trump, the Democratic House and Republican Senate will find accord on Russia policy, the approach to Saudi Arabia, North Korea diplomacy or, for that matter, almost any other foreign-policy issue. Surprisingly, on the biggest issue of all—how to deal with China—there is actually far more agreement than discord. Pursued smartly, competition with Beijing could actually bring our political leaders together rather than drive them apart.
From the outset, the Trump administration has taken a tough line on China. Candidate Donald Trump railed against trade deficits and the thousands of manufacturing jobs he charged Beijing with “stealing” from the American economy. As president, his national-security strategy placed top priority on preparing the United States to compete with a resurgent China and Russia. And in a recent gauntlet-throwing speech, Vice President Mike Pence decried Beijing’s trade practices, human-rights abuses, activities in the South China Sea, and efforts to meddle in American democracy. “Previous administrations all but ignored China’s actions,” Pence declared. “Those days are over.” Pence promised the administration would respond with tariffs, higher military spending, freedom of navigation exercises, improvements in the nuclear arsenal, and efforts to expose covert Chinese political influence.
Not since the normalization of ties in the 1970s has an American administration been so public and explicit about its concerns about China, or so adamant about its appetite for a reckoning.