On a hot Friday before a holiday, it’s hard to stay focused. In this chaotic world, it’s usually hard to stay focused on anything, especially with supposed “leaders” relying on distraction and buzz rather than anything of substance.
So let’s play a little game of speculation. I have little to back up anything I’m about to say here, other than the simple and obvious fact that where the US has the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel, China is always playing a long game. As a colleague once told me, “China has had a bad 200 years, but we think the next 200 will make up for it.”
China has been in the news much more than usual lately, primarily because of the pointless trade war that is flaring up. This has riled the Chinese people themselves, who have been comparing the attempt at dictating a trade agreement to the 1901 Boxer agreement, as shown in this moving GIF circulating widely on weibo, created by an anonymous user. The main difference? In 1901, the humiliation of the Qing Dynasty was done with old men representing China, and today the old men represent the US.
The dichotomy of this pairing of pictures cannot be over analyzed. On the one hand, China is young and nimble next to the aging US. On the other hand, who is it that has the 117 year long memory? For that matter, who has the right to a little bit of revenge served century cold?
Anyone who wants to confront China as an enemy needs to keep this in mind at all times.
But this is far from the only way in which China has been in the news lately. There can be little doubt that North Korea was pushed into the latest charm offensive by China for reasons that we have discussed previously. All of the principles guiding the latest steps were worked out by Chinese president Xi and South Korean President Moon in December. The US and North Korea were not involved and represent a sideshow of clowns acting as a distraction.
That’s why the most recent rebuff of the US by North Korea, culminating in the cancellation of the summit, has to be taken as nothing but a distraction. Trump has been humiliated, yes, and it appears that he is being played as a chump. But mostly the master distractor is being distracted himself.
It might be unnecessary, given that Trump is so distracted by his only impeachable problems. Which makes the announcement that China’s Construction Bank is going to invest $500 million in a Trump Indonesian property all the more curious. China never makes big announcements, so why did they this time? It’s less of a bribe and much more of a statement – “We just bribed you!”
If it turns up the heat on Trump, as it should, it’s another useful distraction. Trump sure has to stay bizzy!
Now, if you’ve ever witnessed a con man in operation, you may have noticed one thing. Or perhaps you didn’t notice at first, since you are not supposed to. Cons are done by magicians, people who are skilled at getting you to look at their right hand while their left hand takes your wallet. Or, as Sun Tzu put it, “All warfare is based on deception.”
Keeping Trump and the US busy is going to have its advantages, without any doubt. But to what end? I still believe that where Iran needs friends and cash, and China needs oil and to make their currency convertible, there is a place for a critical alliance. We will know more after the Qingdao summit is over on June 6. Throwing Europe into the balance only makes it much more appealing. To pull this off will require having Trump and most of the US looking the other way until it is too late.
Of course, the lessons won’t be lost on the Europeans, who have gradually been expanding their own relationship with China. Just about the dumbest possible thing that could be done during this period? Well, the US could enact a 25% tariff on imported cars, a major industry for key trading partners Germany and Japan.
Is the master distractor himself being played? The short answer is that a con man will always keep playing at long as he thinks he is winning. A con can be conned when they stay at the table too long. And that appears to be just what is happening.