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Such a magnanimous stance would also amount to good policy, serving as a warning to Beijing that they take his incoming administration as a pushover at their peril. There is a reason, after all, why Trump is popular in places like Hong Kong. While few will miss White House foreign policy blurted out randomly on Twitter, the message on China has been clear and serious.
Underpinning that message is a new understanding — now shared widely across the democratic world — that Xi Jinping’s China is the most powerful authoritarian state in history. Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not content to rigorously and ruthlessly entrench its dominance at home where the incarceration of more than a million Uyghurs represents one of the most egregious human rights tragedies in the world today.
The One Country Two Systems arrangement in Hong Kong is being eviscerated before our eyes. Taiwan trembles on a front line that could be breached at any moment, with Xi openly stating that the use of force is not off the table. Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America all stand in the crosshairs of Xi’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy, economic blackmail from the One Belt One Road Initiative, naked theft of intellectual property on a (literally) industrial scale, and blatant attempts to undermine democratic processes and censor criticism of Beijing’s policies.
What is to be done? First and foremost, we need to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth. The United States and most of its democratic allies made a foreign policy miscalculation of historic proportions over China. The widespread belief that Beijing was on the road to becoming what former deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick once famously called a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community was flat wrong. That said, finger pointing will help no one. Neither would a breathless dash to adopt new policies before there is a widespread understanding of the nature of the challenge that China poses.