"America's strategy in China is easy to understand: destroy it. Press her into the ground. Make sure they can not undo American power and influence, not just in Asia but around the world. That's Trump's goal and he's doing a damn good job. I could not be happier. "
That was the answer I got while having a drink when I asked a former high-ranking Trump government official – he talked about the background – what Washington's strategy was with regard to the People's Republic of China. "We let China go too far, too fast, and now we pay the price," the official said. "Competition is one thing, but Beijing is dominated by Asia. We all know what happens next ̵
From there it became even more interesting. "What many people do not understand is that the president and his team are in the long run. They will not hit you. If China does not give in to its economic imperialism, Trump will burden them with more tariffs. If Beijing tries to do more to take over the South China Sea, we have allied with Vietnam or will really make sure that Taiwan has all the weapons it could ever need. In short, we will curb China's rise. We will not let this threat go unchecked like the Obama administration. "
Ah, that word," containment. " I hoped my colleague would say that this, as I long suspected, was actually the Trump government's real strategy. But here is the challenge: what happens if we successfully "curb" China? How does it look to win such a contest? Have we come up with anything?
No, we do not have that. Well, at least I did not have until recently. To be honest, I consider myself a so-called "China Hawk". I make sure that China does not bend the rules of the international system in Asia so much that it no longer matters. I do not want China to turn the South China Sea into a lake of its own, invade Taiwan and destroy its democracy, trade or steal our intellectual property. I want to make sure that Washington remains militarily ahead of Beijing, that America's national interests are preserved through strong alliances that turn out to be a time trial.
But many others who share my views today are the prevailing line of thought about Beijing – wanting to go much further. They see the rise of China as an existential threat. You see Beijing is rapidly overcoming Washington as the world's largest economy and developing a world-class military that could one day defeat the US in battle while trying to force America out of Asia for good. It is a perspective that unites neoconservatives with some foreign realists.
It is clear that China has a long-term interest in maximizing its own national power while becoming the hegemony master of Asia. It's a model that many nations refer to as a superpower – think of the United States for beginners. But coping with this and reacting appropriately is a different matter than trying to "crush" your regime.
My concern is that we have not thought about what we want to hurry in China – diplomatically, economically, militarily and militarily beyond – actually in practice. What are the consequences? Are we prepared for the inevitable setback?
For example, we say that Washington and Beijing will not be able to reach agreement on China's mercantile trade policy from 1 March, and the Trump government will impose massive tariffs on Chinese goods. What happens then? Of course there will be an impact on the US economy as China will retaliate. But what if our attempt to punish Beijing for its fraudulent trading practices succeeds too well?
Here is an example we should consider. Imagine that, thanks to Trump's trade war, Beijing's economy is beginning to slow down and, thanks to rising debt, is unable to impose a massive stimulus package to keep growth as it did in the past. Xi Jinping, China's now lifelong president, will surely blame Washington for its problems and answer.
Maybe we already have a preview of what's to come. The rhetoric coming from Beijing these days is downright scary, with constant talk about war readiness and veiled threats against Taiwan. If Xi really feels the heat at home because of trade challenges with America, he may have to unleash a new wave of nationalism to distract the public. This could set the scene for an armed conflict in Asia that no one yearns for and many will suffer.
My sneaky suspicion is that the Trump government has much bigger plans – as if it would make China so unstable that its people scream for change. and even a regime change is possible.
"If only we could be lucky," the former Trump administration official said with a big smile on his face. When I asked what would happen if a nation, now the second largest economy in the world, harbored over a trillion people, where various ethnic groups hope for independence, armed with nuclear weapons that can reach the homeland of the United States, this implodes Maybe the answer was pretty enlightening.
"Not our problem."
Harry J. Kazianis serves as editor-in-chief of The National Interest and director of the Center for the New Korea Program of National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter @Grecianformula .