“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable“. – Sun Tzu
Donald Trump is the man who launched the ongoing trade war against China. Donald Trump is the man embargoing Huawei products whilst pressuring other nations to do the same. It was under Donald Trump’s watch that Huawei’s CFO was kidnapped in Canada. It was during Donald Trump’s time in power that Hong Kong rioters waving US flags paralysed commerce and disturbed the peace. But it will be the legacy of Donald Trump that will allow China to pursue highly successful development strategies for the next 100 years.
Chinese social characteristics are known for prioritising long term goals over short term satisfaction. Chinese culture is one that stresses rational thought over impetuosity, prudence over capriciousness and hard work over the defeatism of laziness. And yet, any society has the potential to grow complacent and the ruin that comes from complacency often equals the long term effects of defeat during a war.
Although China showed absolutely no signs of sinking into complacency during the first six years of this decade, the 2016 victory of Donald Trump would shortly come to shake China just as it shook the United States and the rest of the wider world.
Crucially however, Trump’s arrival in the White House coincided with China’s internal drive to pivot away from a mass production economy towards a high quality economy which would serve the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In order to achieve this, China planned and is currently executing plans to further open up and reform the domestic economy whilst the global connectivity of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is helping to link and expand key global markets across Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.
None of this fit into the plans of Hillary Clinton and the US establishment she represented during her last attempt at supreme political office. According to such people, China would be allowed to act as the workshop of the world but would be systematically and physically restrained from expanding economic connectivity in south east Asia (through South China Sea provocations), would see CPEC and related projects come under direct threat, would see a US supported EU stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US on all such matters pertaining to Asian development and would have seen a vastly more militant anti-Chinese line over internal matters in places like Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In other words, the Clinton model for China is one that would have allowed China’s mass production economy to continue but would simultaneously work to exhaust Chinese resources in hybrid conflicts on all sides of China’s borders designed to both waste money and distract Beijing from the important priorities of future development.
Although most of the aforementioned acts of geopolitical molestation continue at some level, in a world where everything can be measured in its impact rather than by virtue of its existence, these points of difficulty have in actual fact been minimised under Donald Trump because the current US leader is so squarely focused on trade. Thus, whilst the old US elite wanted to supinely cut China off from opportunities, it was happy for China to remain the world’s workshop until the moment that such mass production became more economically viable in less developed countries. At such a time, the US would have dropped China like a lead balloon and the more naieve in the Chinese business sector might well have been surprised.
For Trump by contrast, a singular vision of attempting to restore America’s position as the once and future workshop of the world led to every other aspect of Washington’s manifold relationship with Beijing to be jettisoned. It was as though Trump sought to swap roles with China wherein China would become an open free trading marketplace to the world whose best minds were creating the world’s most advanced technology whilst the US would re-open its sadly neglected heavy industry whilst aiming more for self-sufficiency and traditional bilateral trade as opposed to heavy reliance on others in a globalised world.
The result has been that China had to expedite its own domestic advances in high-technology with Huawei’s creation of a new backward compatible operating system being an early sign of how Trump’s trade war has pushed China to take positive risks in the high-technology sector that might have previously be stacked behind a great wall of caution in a now bygone era when the US emitted deceptive signals about long term cooperation with Chinese companies.
In an ideal world, China and the US would cooperate towards shared goals that would benefit the world as a whole. And yet, such a world was as far away under America’s Bush/Clinton style old elite as it is under a renegade like Trump. What has changed is that China has reached a position where it has been forced to become ever more self-sufficient in high-technology whilst continuing to open up new trading and financial avenues with the rest of the world via BRI.
This position ultimately suits China well. Finding the perfect balance between domestic innovation, self-reliance and a strong internal market on the one hand with an openness to trade and cooperation with the world on the other is never as easy as it might sound in theory. By removing the US from the equation of the old global trading paradigm and by advocating a mix of self-reliance and and bilateral trading deals which reject the essence of the “old” globalism, America under Donald Trump is helping China to redefine itself as a place whose innovations can equal and in some cases surpass those of the US.
Whilst China was already heading in that direction, the arrival of Donald Trump has helped to greatly expedite this ten-fold whilst accidentally confusing China’s own traditional opponents.
Finally, one must return to Hong Kong – a place that Hillary Clinton would have made the linchpin of US antagonism against China but one which Donald Trump is generally happy to ignore. Today in Hong Kong, rioters whose ideology has more in common with Hillary Clinton than with that of either Donald Trump or Xi Jinping, have taken to carrying images of Pepe The Frog – the grassroots symbol of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and those in the US who tend to associate with Trump’s worldview.
The appearance of Pepe in Hong Kong is a brazen last ditch attempt to win Donald Trump’s attention before the new school year starts in September. Thus far, Trump is not biting because he realises that the Dow Jones is ultimately more interested in the US and China talking trade than in trading barbs over Hong Kong.
Hong Kong itself is becoming more and more of a relic of the past for modern China. This China of the recent past was one that could only attain wealth by welcoming western businesses and adopting western customs on largely western terms. Today, China needs Hong Kong far less than Hong Kong needs China. Today’s China is one where self-sufficiency, high quality development and rapid innovation exist in harmony with a culture of free trade and global connectivity.
Donald Trump has played a major role in making it clear that for China, there is no other viable and most importantly no other safe route to long term development. As such, Chinese history might be far friendlier to Trump than will American history – not least because of who will be doing the writing.