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General News    H3'ed 2/6/18

Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, America First Actually Means China First

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

He took a remarkable star turn at Davos -- and, no, I don't mean President Trump. I was thinking about Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017, when he claimed the title of globalist-in-chief in a highly praised speech to the world's assembled CEOs and plutocrats. He was then promoting a "community of shared future for mankind" versus you-know-who's America First policies! In the process, he won admirers galore. This year, he stayed home to oversee the development of yet more Confucius Institutes, China's government-sponsored language-teaching programs that now exist in dozens of countries, and to supervise further planning on China's ambitious projected 65-nation One Belt One Road initiative. That's the vast economic program meant to tie together much of Eurasia (as well as other parts of the planet, including former U.S.-dominated bailiwicks in Latin America and the Caribbean) in a Chinese-sponsored web of construction and trade projects that, if successful, might someday give "imperial" a new meaning. This year Xi sent his key economic adviser to Davos in his place, ceding center stage to Donald Trump who flew in with seven cabinet members, didn't drool or tweet insultingly on stage, and was similarly applauded by the globe's leading billionaires as he declared America "open for business." (No matter that he was already planning for a State of the Union address that would highlight his desire to wall off his country and further shut it down to outsiders.)

If you followed the America media, which simply can't get enough of The Donald, day in, day out (minute in, minute out?), you would have experienced his performance at Davos as a grand, not to say surprising presidential triumph of the first order in front of the very crowd of globalists he spent his election campaign blasting. And if you had done so, you might well have been wrong because, even without Xi present, China, not Trump, was, as Ishan Tharoor of the Washington Post wrote, "the elephant in the room," its "vast investments around the world and increasing geopolitical assertiveness... frequent subjects of panel debates and chatter at cocktail parties." Keith Bradsher of the New York Times reached a similar conclusion, reporting that at Davos "geopolitical momentum lay with Beijing, not Washington" and that Xi, not The Donald, was once again the "real star" of the gathering.

And as TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author (appropriately enough) of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World, points out today, that's just the beginning of the way President Trump has been ceding ground to the Chinese leadership. Despite his regular attacks on China for committing the "greatest thefts in the history of the world," when it comes to its trade policies with the U.S. (not to speak of that classic Chinese "hoax," climate change), the president has, as Hiro vividly explains, turned out to be China's greatest promoter on the world stage -- and, as it happens, hasn't done so badly for Russia either. Tom

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Donald Trump Offers a Helping Hand to China and Russia
Giving American Isolationism New Meaning in the Twenty-First Century
By Dilip Hiro

In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned grimly of "rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values." In response, he demanded that Congress give even more money to "our great military" and fund the growth and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, making it "so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else." And yet, in a near biblical performance in his first year in office, President Trump inadvertently rolled out a love-thy-enemy set of policies that only enhanced the roles of both of those challengers, favors never imagined by the Robert Mueller Russia investigation.

It's hardly surprising, then, that last October in Beijing in his speech to the 19th congress of the Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed the sort of confidence that befits a true rising power on planet Earth. With remarkable chutzpah, he anointed his country the leading global force on contemporary political, economic, and environmental issues by declaring, "It is time for us to take center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind." With the unintended help of Donald Trump, he could indeed make it so.

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Two months later in Washington, President Trump launched his National Security Strategy (NSS), an uninspired hodgepodge lacking in either vision or clarity. It did, however, return the U.S. to the Cold War era by identifying China and Russia as the two main challengers to its power, influence, and interests, though offering no serious thoughts about what to do on the subject (except dump more money into the Pentagon budget and the American nuclear arsenal).

In reality, many of Trump's actions, statements, and tweets in the months before the release of that document provided Beijing and Moscow with further opportunities to extend their influence and power.

On the eve of the anniversary of Trump's first year in office, for instance, a Gallup survey of 134 countries showed a startling drop -- from 48% under Barack Obama to 30% under Trump -- in global approval of Washington's role in the world. For a president who values records, that was an achievement: the worst figure since Gallup started recording them in 2007. China, on the other hand, surged to 31% and Russia to 27%. And that was before President Trump referred to various unnamed African nations as "shithole countries."

Here, then, is a list of favors that Donald Trump has done for America's latest challengers and how they have reacted on what, after almost two decades of a sole superpower global order, is once again a planet with more than one world power.

Ditching the TPP

On his first day in the Oval Office, as he had promised in his election campaign, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Its goal had been to tie 12 Pacific countries -- Canada to Chile, Australia to Japan -- into a complex web of trade rules that would cover approximately 40% of the global economy. Among them, tariffs would be lowered and rules established for resolving trade disputes, the granting of patents, and the protection of intellectual property. One obvious Asian power, however, wasn't included because the TPP was meant, above all, to limit China's future economic clout in the region by permanently linking the United States to East Asia. The pact was, in other words, meant to be an economic bulwark against a rising China.

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President Obama had worked on the agreement for almost eight years, with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans granting him fast-track authority to negotiate it. Still, he left office without submitting it for approval to Congress.

Trump's day-one act was, in fact, a triumph for China. As Michael Froman, the trade representative who negotiated the pact, put it, "After all this talk about being tough on China, for [Trump's] first action to basically hand the keys to China and say we're withdrawing from our leadership position in this region is geo-strategically damaging." Trump argued that he was protecting American workers against competition from low-wage countries like Vietnam and Malaysia which were included in the deal. But in so doing, he ignored the outstanding advantage of becoming part of a Pacific free-trade zone that excluded China, while offering the U.S. and Japan, which generate the globe's first and third highest gross domestic products, the clout that goes with such a zone.

Washington's Climate Change Leadership Abandoned

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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