‘America First’ surrenders the world to Chinese influence

‘America First’ surrenders the world to Chinese influence
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A year ago, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBrennan fires new shot at Trump: ‘He’s drunk on power’ Trump aides discussed using security clearance revocations to distract from negative stories: report Trump tried to dissuade Melania from 'Be Best' anti-bullying campaign: report MORE took office pledging to upend decades of U.S. foreign policy in order to put “America First.”

Moves like withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital provided sharp illustrations that the Trump administration is more than willing to alter the status quo.

Despite widespread fears from national security experts, this diplomatic disruption has yet to provoke a serious crisis, and it’s tempting to conclude that the Trump Doctrine is so crazy that it just might work. But the true test of the America First doctrine is yet to come: whether it can blunt the growth of China as a direct challenger to America’s political, economic, and military superiority. So far, the signs aren’t encouraging.

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Last month, the president gave a generally well-received speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an annual gathering of the world’s political and economic elite.

 

It was clear, however, the president of the United States no longer gets top billing. This year, that distinction went to a previously-obscure Chinese official, Liu He, who in a standing-room-only speech outlined China’s plans to expand its ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” to stimulate global trade and connectivity. Chinese investment has already drawn many of its neighbors firmly into Beijing’s orbit, including countries like Pakistan that were formerly close American allies.

Even more threatening to U.S. interests, just last week China’s foreign minister completed a major visit to lure Latin American countries closer to Beijing. Under any previous administration, Washington’s diplomatic might would have been mobilized to counter such an open attempt to push America aside. But not this one. So much for the Monroe Doctrine, which for over 200 years has aimed to keep hostile foreign powers out of the western hemisphere.

The collapse of the Monroe Doctrine might not resonate with the average voter, but make no mistake: The America First doctrine risks surrendering the world to Chinese influence, with consequences we haven’t begun to grasp.

Within a decade or so, and quite possibly much sooner, China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy. While it is spending part of its wealth on development projects that benefit global trade, China is also building a military to equal if not overwhelm America’s.

China has also proven more than willing to flout international law. Apart from its brazen territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing has developed a dangerous habit of kidnapping foreign citizens abroad, often ethnic Chinese, who it claims have broken Chinese laws. All this adds up to an influence that must be countered, not condoned under the guise of putting “America First.”

The Trump administration, perhaps needless to say, doesn’t see things the same way. Its National Security Strategy , meant to guide America’s relations abroad, cites China’s rise as a threat to U.S. interests, and promises to achieve “peace through strength.” The fatal flaw in this strategy is that it assumes that America can maintain global leadership while retreating within its borders.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, much of global leadership is simply showing up. For decades, America has shaped world affairs in large part because U.S. diplomats operated around the clock in nearly every capital in every country and attended every international gathering of any consequence. Where other countries might assign a single diplomat, the United States could draw on an entire bureau of career professionals. As the Trump administration prepares to slash America’s State Department by nearly a third, it’s doubtful whether this asset can be preserved.

Many people question whether Trump’s America First doctrine will help or harm what really matters — America’s security and prosperity. Relations with China will provide the answer.

China appears to have responded to a top U.S. priority, enforcing sanctions against North Korea. But on many other issues, in many other parts of the globe, Beijing appears to be directly challenging America’s political, economic, and military interests. Its recent overtures to countries like Brazil are likely the tip of the iceberg in a global campaign that may well include Russian-style attempts to destabilize the United States and its allies.

In the face of these threats, the right approach is to cement our partnerships and alliances with the many countries around the globe that still look to America for leadership on the global stage. Pursuing America First may well simply leave America alone.

Scott Moore served in the U.S. Department of State handling U.S.– China relations. He is currently a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.