President Trump entertained President Xi this past weekend without any demonstrable results, at least as far as our national interests. The “great negotiator” was apparently as successful with the Chinese as he was with his own Republicans in the House.
There were no agreements on the military expansion into the South China Sea, unfair trade practices in Africa (the Chinese have had no compunction over using bribes to cornering precious metal mining in the entire Continent). No agreement over the North Korean nuclear development, military cyber-espionage or military cooperation with Iran. No agreements over the protectionist policies on Chinese technical markets, Chinese currency manipulation, or commercial cyber-theft. Nothing. Which is why the Chinese considered the Mar a Lago Summit a huge success for them.
There’s lots to consider since the Chinese now are moving rapidly to control the entire Pacific Rim, leaving the United States as the former great power in the Pacific. When President Trump withdrew from the Pacific Trade Pact without any policy or trade initiatives to replace it, the Chinese moved aggressively to fill that vacuum. Indonesia and The Philippines were already establishing extensive trade and diplomatic relations with China before PTP, and American influence over these key countries was already waning.
However, since PTP was withdrawn, Australia, Thailand and even Viet Nam (no friend of China in the past) are negotiating new trade pacts independent of American interests. In the age of international corporations and banking, the economic importance of multi-lateral trade pacts has increased even as the logistical considerations have diminished. However, trade and commerce are also important to establishing popular and political influence in other countries and this may be the most important loss we are suffering.
Since the end of WWII, the Pacific has been solidly under our control, economically and politically. Now China is becoming the controlling power in the Pacific Rim and even traditional allies are drifting to the Chinese. Australia is negotiating directly with the Chinese and are rumored to be putting the expansion of military cooperation with the U.S. on hold. For all the PTP rhetoric during the campaign about “America First”, the complete absence of any Pacific trade policy is rapidly becoming one of the most historic disasters in our political as well as commercial history.
Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese (and European) media are raving about the lack of any tangible result from the Summit. The Chinese are certainly happy to keep things exactly as they are now – an unambiguous win for China. If the Chinese are successful in their current efforts, American influence will become an historical footnote.
“Making America Great Again” is a nice slogan and feeling, but at this moment America is becoming not just weaker in the Pacific Rim, but also irrelevant.