Over the last few months, President Trump has unleashed the most intense round of U.S. actions against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in decades.
Throughout his first term, the president and his administration have been ramping up U.S. competition with China across multiple areas of the federal government. President Trump’s personal rhetoric about China’s leaders has been a mix of positive and negative, and the president himself has seemed primarily focused on achieving a new trade deal with China. But then, on May 19, when asked about the trade deal, President Trump said, “I feel very differently now about that deal than I did three months ago…We’ll see what happens.” China’s negligence, lies and cover-ups regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of U.S.-China relations.
Take U.S. reactions to the CCP’s abuse of Hong Kong. On May 27, the State Department decertified that the CCP was granting Hong Kong sufficient autonomy to warrant Hong Kong special treatment and privileges. Two days later, President Trump revealed more consequences. The United States will review disclosures of Chinese companies listed in United States securities markets, eliminate policy exemptions that have been granted to Hong Kong, revise the travel advisory for Hong Kong and sanction officials involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy. The United States will also move to protect American intellectual property by restricting researchers connected to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from entering the United States.
Appreciating China’s emboldened posture, the Trump administration has been actively working to alter the dynamic with Taiwan and its global standing in an effort to prevent China from acting aggressively there. In July 2019, President Trump authorized a military sale to Taiwan worth more than $2 billion that included 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and portable Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Then the following month, President Trump authorized another military sales package to Taiwan worth more than $8 billion, including 66 new F-16C/D fighter jets. Taiwan has wanted those fighter jets for years, but previous administrations demurred in the face of strong Chinese opposition.
But the Trump administration thinks the sales, meant to help deter what could result in a large-scale war, are worth the cost of irritating Beijing. On May 20, the State Department notified Congress of its intent to sell 18 MK-48 Torpedoes to Taiwan. And just a couple weeks ago, the U.S. Navy conducted yet another “Taiwan Strait Transit,” its seventh of 2020. In April, when asked about two freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait, Lieutenant Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, confirmed that the guided missile destroyer USS Barry transited the Strait. He said, “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
One of the best ways to prevent confrontation with China is to convince the CCP that the cost of acting more aggressively will be too high. Essential to this is preventing international isolation of Taiwan and strengthening Taiwan’s reputation as a responsible, fair and reliable global actor. On May 20, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Matthew Pottinger gave a video address, in Chinese, for Taiwan President Tsai’s inauguration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised her inauguration. Senior U.S. officials praising her and celebrating her inauguration has significant diplomatic impact.
Recent months also brought about a flurry of activity to crack down on CCP telecommunications. President Trump signed an executive order on April 4, “Establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the U.S. Telecom Services Sector,” and then five days later, the new committee recommended the FCC revoke China Telecom’s U.S. operating license. A few weeks later, on April 22, citing national security risks, the FCC issued “show cause” orders to state-operated China Telecom, China Unicom, Pacific Networks and ComNet, giving each 30 days to justify why the FCC should not revoke their U.S. licenses to operate.
On May 15, the Commerce and State Departments revealed that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced a $12 billion investment in an advanced semiconductor fabrication facility in Arizona. The same day, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security moved to revise its foreign-produced direct product rule, as well as cracking down on telecom giant Huawei.
And there is reason to believe more is coming. Last month, the White House released its “Strategic Approach to China.” It is a remarkable document worth reading in its entirety. It outlines the ideology that motivates the CCP, connecting its domestic behavior with its behavior towards and against other nations. It says, in part:
The CCP's campaign to compel ideological conformity does not stop at China's borders. In recent years, Beijing has intervened in sovereign nations' internal affairs to engineer consent for its policies. [Chinese] authorities have attempted to extend CCP influence over discourse and behavior around the world, with recent examples including companies and sports teams in the United States and the United Kingdom, and politicians in Australia and Europe.
Highlighting the regime’s abuses of its people to force ideological conformity is key to understanding the nature of the CCP. Congress recently sent the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 to President Trump’s desk. The bill condemns the CCP for the prison camps and gross abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. It passed with an overwhelming bipartisan House vote of 413-1.
Taken alongside the Trump administration’s right and public memorializing of the Tiananmen Square protest, President Trump’s signing of the Uyghur bill will send a clear message that the United States is not intimidated, and will not look the other way in the face of CCP abuses of the people inside and outside its borders. There will be consequences for overstepping.
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