I recently read an article by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (Bush administration 2006-2009) referring to China and U.S. trade concerns.
I took some exception to Paulson’s portrayal of the problem.
After spending years in the Pentagon examining Chinese security intent and reach, we too in the military (like Paulson in Treasury) did not quite understand what drives China…in other words, their history, traditions, culture, and ideologies. And worse, did not communicate or fuse information with our cabinet partners…one being the U.S. Treasury. For example, I attended a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) meeting during the Obama administration listening to our Pacific Command brief the JCS chairman on Chinese aggression in the south china seas. At one point during the brief, the two-star admiral leading the brief used a keyword describing the Chinese….the word was “threat.” On the outside, this seems like an accurate security depiction of the Chinese, especially since recent aggressions such as building an island in international waters, declaring it a sovereign territory of China, and subsequently forming a military air defense zone around it, seemed to support this conclusion. As far as the JCS was concerned, China was a threat.
Not so fast!
After the brief and during questions, a very smart high ranking assistant secretary of defense brought up the point that not all of our government organizations refer to China as a threat. He mentioned the fact that the Treasury Secretary assesses China as a partner. A partner? Amazing, these two assessments could not be further apart…and within our own government. It is discombobulated assessments like this that create mixed signals and uncoordinated positions. The result being diplomatic and more importantly actionable confusion. So what is it? Is China a threat or a partner? Or both? And more to the point of my blog, how do you determine a U.S. position and its actions if we don’t even have the U.S. government on the same sheet of music?
The bottom line is you don’t! And we didn’t until Trump came into office and got them all on the same sheet….I’ll bet painfully? Is Trump’s position the right one? Time will tell but what Henry Paulson states in his article is what I feel is the problem with our historical approach to China. In other words, old diplomatic rhetoric, ignorance and passive positions. We let China become an embolden beast with few boundaries because we failed to truly understand who they are, what they believe and their past.
The Chinese worry about only a few things; the party, power, and profit…at any cost!