US President Donald Trump (File photo)
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has warned that a “complete decoupling” from China remains a policy option for Washington after surmising that Beijing may have spread the coronavirus intentionally to economically damage the US and other countries.
Trump’s charges against Beijing came even as top US lawmakers, officials, and policy mavens are concluding that an expansionist and assertive China feels confident enough to make territorial grabs in the region, including incursions into India, to distract from its role in spreading the coronavirus pandemic among other travails.
China’s persistent aggression against India came up for discussion and scrutiny in Congress, the State Department, and in the media on Thursday even as Trump attempted to roll back the impression conveyed by his former NSA John Bolton that he was soft on China in order to get trade deals that will help him win a re-election.
“The US. certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China,” Trump tweeted after telling the Wall Street Journal “There’s a chance it (coronavirus spread) was intentional,” driven by economic motivation.
“They’re saying, man, we’re a mess. The United States is killing us. Don’t forget, my economy during the last year and a half was blowing them away,” Trump told The Journal, adding that he didn’t have intelligence reports to back up the claim, and there was a better chance it was Chinese incompetence or a mistake “but you never know… it has had an impact.”
Chinese belligerence came in for a more expansive scrutiny in Congress where Senate Majority Leader and Trump ally Mitch McConnell directly blamed Beijing for instigating the violent border clashes.
“The world could not have received a clearer reminder that the PRC is dead-set on brutalizing people within their own borders, challenging and remaking the international order anew in their image — to include literally redrawing world maps,” McConnell said during a foreign policy debate, outlining China’s aggression in the region against India, Japan, and Taiwan among others.
The State Department too read from the same page with a key official detailing China’s repeated incursions into India.
“This activity is similar to activity we’ve seen in the past on border disputes … I think it was 2015 when Xi Jinping traveled to India the first time. The PLA invaded this contested area deeper and longer, with more people than ever before historically. Then we saw the Doklam issue down near Bhutan, where we saw similar concerns. Again, whether that was a negotiating tactic or a – just a punch in the nose to demonstrate their superiority, I don’t know,” David Stilwell, the State Department official heading the East Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau said in a briefing on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting in Hawaii with Chinese mandarin Yang Jiechi on Wednesday.
The meeting, from all accounts, was a disaster, with Stilwell referring to the trust deficit between the two sides in view of China’s inability or unwillingness to adhere to commitments and a “wolf warrior environment – very shrill, one-sided, sometimes not realistic” – that Beijing operated in.
Pompeo returned from the meeting to express condolences for India’s loss of lives, amid a broad consensus in Washington that China is the instigator of the clash.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the people of India for the lives lost as a result of the recent confrontation with China. We will remember the soldiers’ families, loved ones, and communities as they grieve,” he said in a statement.
The US commentariat was also lockstep with American lawmakers and mandarins, calling out China for its belligerence towards India and other neighbors as part of its “regional bullying.”
“Each country says the other instigated the confrontation, but the clash fits China’s recent habit of pressing territorial claims on all fronts,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board said in a comment on clashes with India, outlining, like McConnell and Stilwell, Beijing aggression against various neighboring states.
“As the Chinese economy struggles amid the pandemic, President Xi Jinping appears to be letting the People’s Liberation Army act out abroad. This may be a nationalist play to shore up domestic support. Or perhaps Mr. Xi simply feels confident enough to achieve longstanding territorial goals,” it added, urging President Trump to forge stronger alliances in the region, including with India, characterising Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “most pro-American Indian leader in decades.”