As a beleaguered Trump administration struggles with an unprecedented surge of domestic challenges, foreign leaders friendly and otherwise are recalibrating their strategies for coping with an unconventional administration embroiled in turbulence. It now looks as if China, Russia and Germany have decided how to handle President Trump through November. Berlin will ignore him; Moscow and Beijing will take advantage of U.S. distraction.
For Russia, this means overlooking its own economic problems and the coronavirus pandemic to step up its engagement in the Libyan civil war. For its part, the Chinese leadership seems to believe that it is impossible to conciliate Mr. Trump, but that there is also little to fear from him. An economic crisis worse than 2008, the greatest surge in racial and political dissension since 1968, and a presidential election likely to test America’s strife-filled political climate—no Chinese leader, least of all Xi Jinping, could be expected to ignore opportunities like these.
Beijing’s latest policy choices represent an across-the-board defiance of U.S. pressure. Last week, one of China’s most senior military officials, Gen. Li Zuocheng, gave a chilling speech in the Great Hall of the People: “If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost,” he warned, “the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions.” Beijing has always claimed the right to use force to block Taiwan’s independence. It is, however, unusual for such a senior military official to threaten the island so explicitly.
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