2016 elections, Asia, Asia-Pacific, China, cyber-war, defense spending, Im-Politic, Marco Rubio, Obama, offshoring, offshoring lobby, RealClearPolitics.com, Republicans, Scott Walker, South China Sea, technology transfer, The Wall Street Journal, TPP, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership
Two of the Republican party’s establishment presidential candidates have now spoken out in detail about America’s China policy; if timing is everything, they’d deserve A’s, given how Beijing’s erratic recent economic moves lie behind so much of this week’s tumult in world financial markets. Sadly, everything else about these statements simply repeats what’s become boilerplate for the Republican mainstream, and especially its Washington, D.C.-based Congressional leadership: (a) ringing calls to stand up more forcefully to increasingly aggressive Chinese behavior in East Asia and on the cyber-hacking front; and (b) thinly disguised excuses for coddling the ongoing predatory economic policies that have immensely strengthened China both economically and militarily.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at least has an excuse. He has no significant foreign policy or international business experience other than hitting up Beijing for Chinese investments for his state and markets for its products and services (which, to be fair, is Standard Operating Procedure for governors).
Not surprisingly, he’s parroting the Boehner-McConnell – and, ironically, Obama – line that responding to China-related challenges (and opportunities) in Asia requires first and foremost approving the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
At least in an article today on the RealClearPolitics.com website, Walker intriguingly left himself some Clinton-ian wiggle room on trade, calling for a TPP “that puts American workers first and levels the playing field. A deal that genuinely opens markets and ensures high standards for an area covering almost 40 percent of the world’s GDP….” In other words, he’s (reasonably) reserved himself the option of rejecting a final agreement if campaign considerations so dictate by claiming that it’s failed these litmus tests.
Nonetheless, Walker’s equation of concluding the TPP on the one hand, and restoring American “leadership” in Asia on the other – a staple of pro-TPP rhetoric – signals that he won’t be a terribly hard sell. Meanwhile, his reference to “high standards” suggests that he buys the bogus contention that the TPP can ensure that the Chinese and other Asians will wind up structuring their economies, and regional trade and commerce, along U.S.-style lines – even though even American allies in the region keep emphatically rejecting these norms.
More fundamentally, just like Washington’s Republican China pseudo-hawks, Walker would beef up America’s military response to Beijing’s regional muscle-flexing while apparently leaving intact its access to the global resources and technology that powers it. Thus, Walker would “rebuild our military strength in Asia. Defense sequestration must end, and our defense budget must return, at a minimum, to the level [at which] we can once again field a military that is fully equipped to keep the peace. We also need a vigorous shipbuilding program that puts Americans to work in service of our safety.” And he’d reinvigorate regional defense alliances that President Obama has allegedly permitted to decay.
But would Walker stand up to the mercantilism that has paid for so much of China’s military power, including cyberhacking capabilities that have resulted in “brazen attacks against the United States”? Not exactly. Walker declares that “we cannot allow [China], or any other nation, a free pass on unfair trade practices and the theft of our intellectual property.” But all he’ll say about his approach to these transgressions is “These are not insurmountable issues, and the more we can work together through difficult issues, the more people from both countries will benefit.”
But at least his article said something about the subject – as opposed to its treatment of corporate technology transfers. These practices, which have given China such formidable defense-related knowhow, were completely ignored.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has no Walker-like excuses, but his Wall Street Journal op-ed today duplicates the shortcomings of Walker’s strategy almost to a tee. It’s true that, although Rubio actually voted for the TPP in the Senate, he doesn’t regurgitate the blather about the deal demonstrating America’s strategic commitment to and credibility in East Asia. In this piece, he portrays the agreement’s main benefits as economic, embodying “firmer insistence on free markets and free trade.”
But like Walker, Rubio would restore “America’s strategic advantage in the Pacific” with higher defense spending that would “allow us to neutralize China’s rapidly growing capabilities in every strategic realm, including air, sea, ground, cyber space and even outer space.” Also like Walker, Rubio would reinforce America’s ties with its Asia-Pacific allies.
Yet although Rubio promises that “if China continues to use military force to advance its illegitimate territorial claims…I will not hesitate to take action,” and even notes that Beijing’s military spending has been surging for years, like Walker, he says nothing serious about crimping China’s revenue and technology streams. On the one hand, Rubio accuses China of numerous major violations of global trade and economic standards. On the other, he would respond “not through aggressive retaliation, which would hurt the U.S. as much as China, but by greater commitment and firmer insistence on free markets and free trade” – i.e., the TPP. Apparently, despite his experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has yet to learn that export-dependent China has much more to fear from trade conflict than the still-largely self-sufficient United States.
For decades, America’s China policy has been sabotaged by leaders more dedicated to fronting for corporate offshoring interests and their profits-first approach to Beijing rather than promoting national interests. Their combination of military bluster and economic pablum makes clear that Walker and Rubio are offering more of the same.