Trump's confrontation with China aimed at maintaining America's global status: scholar

US President Donald Trump has signed the $716 billion John S. McCain, Jr. National Defense Authorization Act into law, which will increase the size and strength of the US military.

The defense act lays bare Trump's tougher stance on China, as it contains several measures which call on the Pentagon to improve arms sales to Taiwan, hold joint military drills with the island's forces, increase high-level US-Taiwan military exchanges and exclude China's People's Liberation Army from the biennial naval exercises known as Rim of the Pacific.

The defense act also strengthens the authority of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews proposed foreign investment to see whether it threatens national security. This provision is also seen as taking aim at China.

China's ministries of foreign affairs, defense, and commerce have made comments on the defense act, saying that it reflects America's cold-war mindset and goes against the principle of the One China policy and the spirit of the Three Communiques.

Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, shared his views about the uncertainties brought about by the US defense act during a recent interview with Xiakedao, the WeChat public account of the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.

Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Xiakedao: We know about Tsai Ing-wen's transit stop in the United States on her way to Paraguay and Belize. The Taiwan Travel Act and the National Defense Authorization Act have shed light on America's intention to improve Taiwan's military capabilities and hold military exercises with the island. And earlier, Trump had a phone call with Tsai after he won the presidential election. Is the United States playing a Taiwan card?

Zheng: We cannot see the Taiwan issue separately as it is just a part of Trump's China policy. The United States has adopted a confrontational posture against China comprehensively and would see which policy can hit China more efficiently. Actually, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Space Force Plan, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act and the ongoing trade war can be seen as targeting China. Taiwan is one of the cards that the United States can play, and it is China's bottom line.

Over the recent years, American scholars have issued many papers about the Thucydides Trap with a strong belief that a war between an established power and a rising power will break out. Even Kissinger once thought that Trump would join hands with Russia to contain China.

In a sense, the American effort of strengthening cooperation with Taiwan is not for meeting the island's demand. Instead, it wants to use it as a weapon to beat China. I believe that American politicians' call of protecting democracy and freedom in Taiwan is just a lip service.

Xiakedao: What are the differences between Trump's China policy and his predecessor's?

Zheng: In the era of Obama, the president focused on "changing China" by asking it to accept America's leadership and so-called international rules in a soft way. But Trump adopts a high-handed approach, namely the "America First" policy, to maintain his country's the world's number one status.

Trump wants other countries to submit to the United States. His philosophy is simple: I am the boss, you need me, I do not need you.

We need to realize that Trump is destroying the old international system. The United States was the most important participant and builder of the post-World War II international system. What Trump has done would dramatically lead to a change in geo-politics and world order. It is not only a thing that will affect the China-US relationship but also a thing that will change the regional order.

Xiakedao: Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, Trump has vowed to protect America's economic interest and the right of American manufacturers and lower-class workers. Now, we can see that there are some enterprises in the defense industry that can benefit from the National Defense Authorization Act. What do you think about those enterprises' role in the passage of the act and to what extent the act will be implemented?

Zheng: Of course, Trump will pay more attention to the interest of the enterprises in the defense industry, which became famous for their contribution in bringing down the Soviet Union. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the enterprises in the defense industry adopted neo-conservatism, and their force is becoming stronger under the presidency of Trump.

The US military industry group sees China and Russia as its biggest enemies. The interest group sees Russia as a trouble maker with no ability to pose a fatal threat to America's security, but it sees China as the biggest strategic rival at present.

In fact, the National Defense Authorization Act will give a great deal power to the Defense Department and intelligence departments, as many of the members in the Trump government are military officers and former military officers.

But the military industry group cannot completely represent the United States. We can make use of the differences between different interest groups to reach our goals.

With the trade war going on, we can accelerate the domestic reforms and be more open to international investment including American investment, as White House cannot stop the international flow of capital.

Xiakedao: China has reacted dramatically against the National Defense Authorization Act. In your opinion, what will China do to deal with the act?

Zheng: The intensity of America's action is determined by China's reaction. The United States would be more unscrupulous if China shows weaker stance. It is the nature of power. The United States would restrain itself if it meets resistance. China must take a tough stance on the Taiwan issue, as it is a core interest. Beijing has to convince Taiwan people to believe that the United States is using Taiwan to contain China.

China has no need to worry about its exclusion from the Rim of the Pacific exercises, which see China as an imaginary enemy. It is almost impossible for China to join the military alliance of the United States and the European Union.

Xiakedao: Many American technology companies have shown opposition to the US-China trade war, saying that the heightened tariffs would damage their interests. US ban on exports of high technologies is a major reason behind America's huge trade deficit with China.

Zheng: National security contains corporate interest. If there is no market, technology will be useless. With the increasing investment in the development of technology, a larger market is urgently needed. For example, Google is facing bottlenecks in the United States, so it needs a bigger market.

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