Regime change focus of Trump’s China strategy By News desk

DONALD J Trump has faced numerous obstacles in his life, many of which would have destroyed the career of a less determined individual. Several times, his business interests came close to destruction, each time getting a new lease of life through methods that were unorthodox. A man with immense inner confidence, Trump has shown no hesitation in taking big risks in order to achieve his objectives. Fortunately for him, several of these risks have worked out well for him, thereby giving him an incentive to try strategies that too are risky, and which most others would avoid. Now that he has been elected the 45th President of the United States, Trump has dedicated his term (or hopefully two) in the White House towards ensuring that the US return to the Unipolar Moment that the country was in for some years after the 1992 implosion of the (erstwhile) Soviet Union. After the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union failed to come up with a leader who had the same steel nerves and ruthless temperament of the Georgian revolutionary.
During Stalin’s era, the Soviet Union developed much of its industrial base, but the policy of eliminating the big and middle farmer through concentration camps and often the bullet of the executioner resulted in agriculture in the Soviet Union entering a period of crisis. Farming was carried out in giant collective farms, where there was no incentive for inhabitants to do any work other than the minimum to avoid getting punished. Doing more would not, after all, entail any reward for the trouble taken. Even in the field of industry, several of the policies adopted by Stalin proved impractical, and as a consequence, there was immense suffering and famine in the Soviet Union, leading to the deaths of millions of people. Stalin had been the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) for decades, and when after his death, the many crimes committed by him were exposed by the new CPSU General Secretary (Nikita Khruschev) in a speech to top party cadres that was meant to be kept secret but which got leaked to the outside world, loyalty and faith in CPSU of the ordinary citizen got shaken.
People had been aware of excesses, but the widespread perception till then had been that Stalin as General Secretary had been unaware of such misdeeds, and that they had been carried out without his knowledge. In fact, as Khruschev pointed out in his 1956 speech on the “Cult of Personality and its Consequences”, it was Stalin who was the mastermind of the wave upon wave of arrests and executions that swept the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Among the consequences was the removal through imprisonment and murder of the best Generals in the Red Army, including Marshal Tukhachevsky, on the fabricated ground that they were German spies. In fact, they were patriotic Russians who wanted to build a modern tank force to counter a future attack by Germany.
However, Stalin’s favourite Generals, such as Semyon Budyonny, favoured the use of horse cavalry rather than mechanised forces. Budyonny thought that the tank was a waste of resources, and in his view, so was the Air Force. The consequence was that the Soviet Union was unprepared to repel the three million German soldiers that streamed across the border in 1941, reaching the outskirts of Moscow before having to stop their advance into the city when the winter cold caught them unprepared. Until finally brought to the stage of meltdown by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1992, the Soviet Union was the only other superpower that had capacity to take on US, especially in terms of nuclear forces.
Although the low quality of leadership in the Soviet Union was the primary reason behind the collapse of that giant state, US politicians and officials rushed to claim credit for the demise of the country. Ronald Reagan in particular was credited with bringing down the USSR because of his policy of provoking an arms race that proved a heavy burden on Moscow especially when added to the costs of the war in Afghanistan that was raging since 1979. Now a group of officials clustered around President Trump seek to cause a meltdown in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). Aware that the economy is the strongest point in favour of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), their plan is to cause an economic slowdown that they believe will shatter the confidence in the Chinese people that the CCP can continue to lead them to prosperity.
President Xi Jinping has spoken of the China Dream, and has said that a “moderately prosperous” economy in which poverty is almost fully eliminated will get created in an unprecedently short time. At the same time, he has ordered that technology be given priority, so that these days, more patents are getting registered in China than in the US. Fields such as Artificial Intelligence are being backed by funds provided by the state, while technology companies that are home grown have become global competitors to the US and Europe. Trump is determined that China has to be stopped before it overtakes the US, and as a consequence, his trade negotiators have mixed trade demands with others that are political in nature. The aim is to give an advantage to foreign (mostly US) companies in the Chinese market and to lessen the chances that Chinese brands will soon begin to outpace US and European brands in several lines of production.
Trump’s negotiating team would like to see the Chinese state recede from much of the policy arena, ceding ground especially to US companies. Xi Jinping has understood that such demands are about much more than trade, and is taking a stand against giving concessions regarded by the CCP as one-sided ie those that give an advantage only to the US and none to China. The US would like to see in China and Russia what took place in the Ukraine, where protests multiplied and led to the exile of the elected Ukrainian President, who was disliked by Washington for being too close to Moscow. As a consequence, China is preparing itself for a prolonged struggle against the hostile measures begun by President Trump. The CCP knows that it is not simply a question of commerce but of the ideology that is the basis of the PRC. Events such as the meltdown of the Soviet Union and the attempted change of regime in Venezuela and Iran through creating economic havoc have convinced the CCP leadership that their only option is to fight on so as to ensure that China does not go the way of the Soviet Union. The battle has been joined, but this time, Washington is taking on an adversary that is in many ways its equal.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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