There’s no question that President Donald Trump has inherited the most complex foreign policy and national security situation a US President has ever faced. And make no mistake, China is a root cause for much of this.
It will be high stakes poker when Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at Mar-a-Lago this Thursday for a two day Trump-Xi Summit.
The Summit, however, presents a huge opportunity for President Trump to seriously confront the real issues between our two countries and do so from a position of strength.
The fact is that in the early stages of his presidency and before, President Trump has made the right moves to give him real leverage with the Chinese.
In December, President-elect Trump in his first meeting with a foreign head of state, met with President Abe of Japan. This sent a clear message to the Chinese that Japan is our key strategic partner in Asia.
In addition, then President-elect Trump’s reaching out to Philippine President Duterte, after being lectured to by the Obama administration, helped to ease U.S. tensions with the longtime ally, which had been drifting towards China in recent months. These and other actions have shown that President Trump is capable of successfully playing the international chess game with the Chinese.
Here’s a snapshot of what should be some of the top agenda items at the upcoming Trump-Xi Summit:
1. Trade – A centerpiece of the Trump Campaign, the trade deficit with China will be front and center. It will be important for the Trump Administration to remember that severe demographic problems, due to the aging of its population, are driving much of the Chinese policy. In 2012, China had 180-million citizens who were over 60 years old. By the middle of this century, that number could approach 500-million. Further, the Chinese life expectancy has shot up from just 35 in 1949 to more than 73 today. And with the drastic decline of China’s birthrate, it has now fallen below what is needed to maintain its population. China’s shrinking labor force, due to its demographic challenges, has contributed greatly to its trade policy.
2. Military – China has the world’s largest military, with roughly 2.3-million active duty troops and 500,000 reserves, compared to the US’ approximately 1.3-million active duty troops and 800,000 in the Guard and Reserves. In addition, China is the only country that can really strain American resources from a military standpoint. Despite the size of its military budget, though, China still spends more on domestic security than on external threats. Something is going on internally in China. China’s growing internal problems present a bigtime headache for President Xi. This is something that the Trump Administration should exploit to avert a serious and unnecessary arms race.
3. The South China Sea – The free flow of cargo through the South China Sea is vital to the world’s economy. Ships carry approximately $5.3-Trillion in cargo every year through the South China Sea. China has thumbed its nose at last year’s Hague Tribunal ruling against China’s claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. President Trump’s outreach to Philippine President Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Abe has been a step in the right direction following the Obama Administration. Similar outreach should occur to Malaysia, Singapore and Australia to develop a unified diplomatic, political and military strategy that defends the sovereignty of the South China Sea and contains Chinese aggression.
4. North Korea – North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear technology pose a very real threat to the US. The Chinese have talked out of both sides of their mouth on North Korea. Along with Iran, it has been one of the two great enablers of the North Korean regime. China has helped draft UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions against North Korea, while at the same time helping to launder Iranian payments to North Korea. Further, we see Chinese subcomponents in North Korea’s missile systems. Yes, relations between China and North Korea are at a low point, but China helped create the North Korea situation. President Trump must convince President Xi that we’re in the 59th minute of the 11th hour in dealing with North Korea. It’s a problem for the free world that China helped to create and China needs to fix it. It can begin to do so with an all-out effort to get North Korea to scale back its nuclear program.
5. Cyber Security – Here’s where President Trump has perhaps his greatest opportunity for a big quick win. China has inflicted real damage on the US from both a national security and an economic standpoint with its cyber-attacks against the US Government and US industry. The US can’t compete if American companies annually spend millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars in research and development while China continues to steal the resulting technology. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Chinese espionage (through cyber-attacks) is committed by two groups – one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai. One group can be traced to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the other is also believed to have significant ties to the Chinese Armed Forces. The Chinese Government denies any involvement with these groups. This is an opportunity for President Trump to reach out to President Xi Jinping and tell him that we take him at his word and ask China to join the United States in declaring both of these groups as cyber terrorist organizations, so that we can go after them together. This will call China’s bluff on the world stage and display real American leadership.
Yes, the stakes are high for the Trump-Xi Summit. President Trump’s early moves have been the right ones. Now he has a real opportunity to confront China in the right way on North Korea, the South China Sea, military, trade issues and cyber security. In doing so, he’ll show China and the rest of the world that real American leadership is back.
Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army. He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen. www.thenewterrorism.com Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.