The Grand Illusion: How Trump Tricked China and The Press

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 April 13, 2017|
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Well known film reviewer, Mike D’Angelo, writes, “Magic tricks frequently involve misdirection. In order to create an illusion, the magician needs to perform an action the audience shouldn’t see; this requires providing them [the audience] with something else on which they can focus.” Looking at the recent summit between President Donald J. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, who can seriously challenge the notion that Trump performed the greatest trick in recent geopolitical history?

Going into the Sino-American summit, the two leaders were at odds. Trump had campaigned vociferously against bad trade deals with China and advocated for  standing up to Chinese military aggression. During the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration, Trump fielded a congratulatory phone call from the pro-independence Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. This move challenged American foreign policy orthodoxy.

Since President Jimmy Carter, the United States refused to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. We chose instead to accept the “One-China” policy that said that the only legitimate government of China was the Chinese Communist Party. While we would not allow for China to forcefully reunite Taiwan with the mainland, we would no longer treat Taiwan as a sovereign state. When Trump accepted the call from President Tsai Ing-wen, he sent a message to China: Don’t take anything for granted.

Later on, Trump began talking about creating a border tax for products coming into the country from places like Mexico and China. Since the United States is a leading importer of Chinese goods, this was a direct threat to the Chinese economy. After all, China’s economy—while still performing better than America’s—has been flagging, in no small part due to decreased demand from the Emerging Markets for Chinese exports.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping of China, an ardent nationalist, doubled-down on his country’s unlawful claims to islands in the South China Sea and openly advocated for greater globalization at the Davos conference. Xi also enhanced his country’s support for rogue states like North Korea, increased ties with Russia, and continued undermining of American power wherever it can be so undermined.

It seemed as though no headway would be made going into the Mar-a-Lago Summit. And, had Trump been a conventional politician, it is likely that he would have given the proverbial store away for a token photo op with Xi. But, geopolitics is akin to magic, and the best practitioners of geopolitics often use the same tools of theatricality and deception to aid them in their quest for greatness.

The thrust of the Mar-a-Lago Summit was about how Trump could get Xi Jinping to embrace regime change in North Korea.

Remember, North Korea has been a client state of China’s going back to the Korean War in the 1950’s. Chinese protection on the international stage ensures that the North can defy Western sanctions imposed upon it. Indeed, China is the main reason why Kim Jong-un is in power in North Korea.

We’ve heard over the decades that the only way to ensure that North Korea does not go nuclear is to topple the Kim regime. However, we won’t do that because of the costs involved, the risk to South Korea (and the wider region), and the fact that China would likely feel compelled to send military forces to their stricken client state’s aid. That, of course, would risk igniting another world war.

Instead, we were encouraged to effectively bribe the North Koreans. We gave the Kim regime billions of dollars in foreign aid per year in exchange for the Kim regime promising not to develop nuclear arms. Of course, the Kim regime took the money and continued building bombs. They felt safe doing this because they knew that China ultimately had their back. But why would China protect such an unstable actor like North Korea?

The answer is largely economic. China gets much of its coal from the North. For China to continue its meteoric economic growth (which is, in fact, naturally slowing), China must have easy access to large quantities of cheap energy. Coal is a prime commodity in China. Since China uses its muscle to defend the North abroad, the North gives China its coal at cost. This has the effect of protecting the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly of power at home. If the CCP continues delivering the economic goods to the Chinese people, then the people will feel less inclined to revolt against the CCP. Plus, China does not want to contend with a North Korean refugee crisis. So, if they buttress the Kim regime, they at least get some semblance of stability.

Trump understood this. Since President Trump is the master of the art of the deal, he likely spent the last several months bashing China as an opening bid in his effort to topple Kim Jong-un at cost. So, Trump and his team assembled a catchy deal with China: America will sell China its coal and grant Chinese firms access to America’s lucrative market, if China promises to stabilize North Korea after the United States topples Kim Jong-un. For all of their rhetoric about the evils of America, Xi and his fellow CCP apparatchiks yearn for greater access to American markets.

Besides, Xi was growing weary of Kim Jong-un. He was likely already looking for a way of ridding China of its troublesome neighbor. Trump’s proposal would have given Xi his opening. Of course, Xi couldn’t have simply accepted such a deal at face value. What’s more, Trump couldn’t allow for the preening press to misrepresent what he was trying to do. He needed a distraction; a grand illusion.

Here’s the trick: get everyone to pay attention to the Syrian Civil War by striking at Assad while Trump made a secret backroom deal with Xi. As an added benefit, America gets to put the fear of its military might back into China’s mind. Don’t believe me? Look at what’s happened since the meeting between Trump and Xi.

No sooner had the Trump Administration launched its volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Assad’s air base, than China refused to accept a major shipment of vital coal from North Korea. The United States has deployed a flotilla to the western Pacific Ocean. Also, the renowned U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 has been deployed to South Korea on a “training mission.” Just what are they training for? Only the SEALs know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involves ensuring that Kim Jong-un is soon to have a very bad day. Oh, yeah, and China just moved 150,000 of its troops to the North Korean border.

Just as D’Angelo described, Trump’s magic trick was a misdirection for both the press and the Chinese. He created an illusion—the attack on Assad—to distract his audience, while he deftly performed an action only he and Xi could see. In one fell swoop, then, Trump managed to set the stage for regime change in North Korea without repeating the missteps of Iraq. He’s reinvigorated America’s military prestige. Also, by opening up American coal to Chinese interests, President Trump has upheld his campaign pledge to coal miners. President Trump has also rehabilitated the ailing Sino-American relationship (what was once dubbed “Chimerica”).

The only question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not coal-for-regime-change was the end of the deal? Since the press is incapable of doing its job, I will leave you with the open-ended question of what could have possibly prompted China to abandon its decades-long support of North Korea? After all, I still believe that China plans on pushing America out of the Asia-Pacific, if given the opportunity. Still, I would be happy to be proven wrong on that notion. My hope is that the mere promise of a better deal from America (coupled with America’s renewed military vigor following the Assad strikes) was enough. But, I suppose, we may not know for sure for some time.

Until then, we must concede that President Trump has not only made American foreign policy great again, but he’s also made great power politics fun again (and at cost)!

About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs "The Weichert Report" (www.theweichertreport.com), an online journal of geopolitics. He holds master's degree in statecraft and national security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an associate member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in political science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
  • SpeedMaster

    FTA: ” Since the press is incapable of doing its job, I will leave you with the open-ended question of what could have possibly prompted China to abandon its decades-long support of North Korea? After all, I still believe that China plans on pushing America out of the Asia-Pacific, if given the opportunity.”

    Author is correct, except that without Kim North Korea may no longer threaten the South, thus the USA will decrease it’s presence.

    • Brandon Weichert

      Absolutely. Which, again, is another Trump campaign vow: securing our interests and reducing the U.S. military’s burden. He is making America great again. Thanks for your response (and for taking the time to read my work).

  • Robert Curry

    Dear Mr. Weichert,
    Thank you for your interesting article.
    Trump certainly is playing 3-dimensional chess and stumping the chumps, no doubt here as elsewhere.

    May I also make a friendly suggestion? You write:”We gave the Kim regime billions of dollars in foreign aid… Of course, the Kim regime took the money and continued building bombs.”
    I believe it is important for us to avoid “we” in these cases. “We” didn’t; it was the Clinton administration.
    “We” did not make the same crazy deal with Iran; the Obama administration did.

    I’m certain you and I and lots of other Americans (“we”) never fell for the baloney from the Clinton & Obama administrations about those deals.

    Please keep up the good work!!

    • Brandon Weichert

      Yes, you are spot on–on all of your points listed. Thank you for taking the time to read my stuff.

      I will say this, though. As a matter of course (and maybe it’s some form of misdirected Catholic Guilt), I feel the need to publicly say “we” when it comes to talking about national policies if for only to quietly remind readers that elections have consequences. The majority of Americans voted for Bill Clinton. Therefore, unfortunately for those of us who would have never supported him in a million years, it behooves us to keep this fact in mind: whoever wins the quadrennial election cycle in this country speaks for all of us on the international stage. So, we’d better fight extra hard and get it right at voting time to ensure that it is our voices that are being heard and influencing foreign policy (and domestic as well).

      But, yes, I do agree with you about opposing silly Clinton and Obama foreign policies and we do agree that Trump has stumped “the very best men (and women).” It’s hilariously awesome.

      • Robert Curry

        Thank you for your reply.
        My friendly advice: shed the Catholic Guilt just enough so you can pin the tail on the donkey!
        With good wishes & best regards

      • SpeedMaster

        “The majority of Americans voted for Bill Clinton.”

        43% if memory serves.

        • RAM500

          So blame Perot, too.

          • Ilovebeets

            I voted for Perot and was very disappointed when he dropped out at the last minute. Both bushes sold us out(the average American middle class legal citizen) as it turns out. After 8 years of obomo Slickwilly actually looked most like a conservative…. balanced budget (absolutely driven by a republican congress), defended traditional marriage, financial deregulation. Crazy. Will never know what Perot would have done.

        • CosmotKat

          I think he meant Hillary who won California by enough to give her the popular vote advantage.

      • Dan Schwartz

        Also, Bush 43 paid $$$ to Kim Jung-Il.
        Footnote: It was Wendy Sherman — educated as a social worker(!) — who negotiated both the NoKo & Iran deals.

      • D4x

        Great dot-connecting. Do not forget there is a timeline: 1) VP Pence, and his family, will arrive in Seoul for Easter Sunday April 16, 2017; and 2) PeyongChang 2018 Winter Olympics starts Feb. 9, 2018.

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b7b8361aec2d9413d61d6a2d2c74e04815c924f56b7a16132ce8978211d16085.png
        Winter athletes prefer to not have massive artillery strikes threatening their venues. Kim Jong-Un does not want Norks to find out how rich the South really is.

    • RAM500

      Enough of us voted these fools into office to mis-route taxpayer money.

  • Dief

    Good article, thanks. As to the author’s last question, how about this speculative answer ala East and West Germany – an end to the Kim dynasty leading to a formal end to the Korean War, resulting in an elimination of the UN presence there, a gradual reunification of the Korean peninsula under Seoul. a reduction in US military and the eventual neutrality of Korea. Pretty neat final objective, no?

    • Brandon Weichert

      Agreed. I think that’s exactly in play here. We must also remember two things, though: a sudden reunification is opposed by a majority of the South Korean elite and the South Korean elite have a weird fascination with the Chinese elite (both are ethnic Han, so it doesn’t surprise on that level, but the fact that their two systems are diametrically opposed to each other does make it weird). So, this is likely the best solution. Plus, the Japanese are likely onboard because a) they cannot afford a major conflict right now, b) they are more directly threatened by North Korea than by China and, c) it gives them time to arm up properly.

  • Keyser Soze

    If people would read The Art of the Deal, they would understand what Trump is doing, when he says stuff like “The UN is obsolete” etc etc. The American people get it, its why they elected him President. Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises, he’s getting our pride and respect back in the world community, he has saved our Supreme Court for decades to come, saving jobs bringing jobs back, he did more for US China relations over dinner than Obama did in EIGHT YEARS. and he hasn’t even been in office 100 days yet. These are FACTS!!

  • Dee Win

    I know this. I sleep better at night.

  • Dan Schwartz

    The link to the Reuters exclusive announcing China turning around the nork coal-bearing fleet is very important; and I’m glad you inserted it after publishing.

    Also — and this is important! — per this article NoKo supplies very hard anthracite “coking coal” for China’s steelmaking blast furnace hearths… And where does this anthracite coal come from? Not from bituminous strip mines out west, but more labor–intensive deep mines in Upstate PA, as it’s some of the finest coking coal on earth. (The reason why Upstate PA anthracite is not used for power generation is that it’s very high sulphur, and requires electrostatic precipitators (stack scrubbers); while low sulphur coal costs more but can be used without scrubbers — It’s a trade-off each utility makes due to shipping costs from nearby vs faraway mines.)

  • Dan Schwartz

    Global Times (China): Is North Korea nuclear crisis reaching a showdown?
    [NOTE: This article hit the top of Drudge; but when I went to reload the page, it was BLOCKED with an 502 (Bad Gateway) error: It may — or may not — be fixed, but since I have a copy of the text, I’ll paste it below]

    US President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!”

    North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly convened on Tuesday. A few days later, North Korea will mark the birth anniversary of the late leader Kim Il-sung on April 15, also known as the Day of the Sun. Pyongyang likes to launch nuclear activities as a political salute around this date. Therefore, April is widely seen as a high-risk period for new nuclear tests by North Korea.

    The US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is headed toward the Korean Peninsula after abruptly turning back from sailing to Australia, and Trump sent a warning via his tweet. These are probably related to reports that satellite surveillance shows North Korea is likely to conduct new nuclear tests.

    Washington’s latest threat to Pyongyang is more credible given its just launched missile attack at an air base in Syria. The Korean Peninsula has never been so close to a military clash since the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

    If Pyongyang conducts its sixth nuclear test in the near future, the possibility of US military action against it will be higher than ever. Not only Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honors his promises.

    Now the Trump team seems to have decided to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis. As the discussion runs deeper, a situation of no-solution will not be accepted.

    A new nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test, if conducted by Pyongyang at this time, will be a slap in the face of the US government and will intensify the confrontation between North Korea and the US.

    Presumably Beijing will react strongly to Pyongyang’s new nuclear actions. China will not remain indifferent to Pyongyang’s aggravating violation of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution.

    More and more Chinese support the view that the government should enhance sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. If the North makes another provocative move this month, the Chinese society will be willing to see the UNSC adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil imports to the North. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is intended for securing the regime, however, it is reaching a tipping point. Pyongyang hopes its gamble will work, but all signs point to the opposite direction.

    The US is making up its mind to stop the North from conducting further nuclear tests, it doesn’t plan to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

    China supports solution of the North Korean nuclear issue under the framework of UNSC and Six-Party Talks. If the US takes unilateral action, it will win little international support. Pyongyang can continue its tough stance, however, for its own security, it should at least halt provocative nuclear and missile activities.

    Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time. (end)

  • MrSottobanco

    It is great to see a website dedicated to American Greatness.

  • RAM500

    After all, how can China achieve its co-prosperity sphere in East Asia with North Korea constantly putting everyone on edge?

  • A very sharp Chinese student told me recently that China’s main interest in North Korea is, and has always been, as a buffer between China and the American orbit. My guess is that the reason China moved 150k troops to the Yalu River is not to stem a flood of refugees (as the media have speculated), but to warn the descendants of General MacArthur against once again heading north.

    The ideal solution might be to create a unified Korea that was officially neutral, vis-a-vis China and America, and non-nuclear. How that could be achieved in the face of Kim’s vicious regime is a puzzle, but China could probably effect it by removing Kim and declaring the Korean War over, while we removed all American troops from the peninsula. Then it would take some fancy diplomacy, involving a lot of nice, fat trade deals, but I can see the Artful Dealer accomplishing it.

    Maybe it’s time for President Trump to demand, with a twinkle in his eye: “Mr Xi, tear down this DMZ!”

    /L. E. Joiner

  • Captain Mann

    Good article. Somewhat speculative, but makes sense to me.

  • I pray, literally pray, you are right. America Greatness (of which I am a financial supporter) was instrumental in turning me from a NeverTrumper. After discovering you, I began to listen to Trump with new ears, and his speech in NC (where I am a resident) followed immediately by one at Gettysburg turned me from a reluctant convert to an optimistic one.

    However, the Technocratic Bill B he wanted to replace Technocratic Bill A with, the Syria strike (which would be even worse if done for misdirection), the refusal to direct DHS to enforce his ban against unconstitutional rulings, and the Jared/Ivanka influence have me very worried.

    So much hinges on this: “Trump understood this. Since President Trump is the master of the art of the deal…”

    But what if that isn’t true? What if that is the way we rationalize what we’re seeing? Maybe I’m just a stooge in the audience, but I have actually played 3D chess, on a board my dad got me as a kid after seeing it on “Star Trek,” and I’m not so sure.

    • Bo, I was never a NeverTrumper, but I thought he was a joke and didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting the nomination, let along becoming president. But Ironically, it was the shrill absolutist hysteria of the NeverTrumpers that opened my mind to what he was actually saying. I began to see that NTers interpreted everything he said or did in the worst possible light. Fortunately, there were enough clear thinking, dispassionate voices out there that I began to take Trump seriously. Slowly but surely, not only did I begin like what he was saying and standing for, I began to suspect the guy is something of a genius. At the least, I started to respect his wisdom and common sense. And while he’s not ideologically conservative, he is conservative by temperament. And his instincts are brilliant. I say all this to say, I think I simply trust the man to do the right thing, even if some things make me wonder. I’m defaulting to trust now until he proves me wrong. I don’t think he will.

      • Rodney Krieger

        I felt the same way you did, Mike, but as time went on I had to back up and put things in perspective. Here was an outsider who: 1.Demolished a crowd of polished, experienced political primary opponents; 2. dictated terms of the second debate by threatening to not show up because he knew that he was the key to good ratings (read more network revenue); 3. killed the worst moment in his campaign by providing four of Bill Clinton’s female “rape” victims for interviews prior to one of his debates to deflect the media:4. Completely outmanouvered the Clinton team during the campaign; 5. Completely confused the main stream media and their pollsters; 6. and did it all for half the cost. Conclusion: Trump is the smartest guy in the room, no contest.

        And as a bonus, he loves his country, is not a socialist, and will appoint conservative supremes. I really can’t say I could trust any of the establishment Republican candidates as much.

  • Greg_Deane ✓ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ ˢᵘᵖᵖᵒʳᵗᵉʳ

    China moving 150,000 troops onto the North Korean border could mean it’s supporting Kim, not that China intends to execute a pincer movement with an invasion from South Korea. And the last thing America needs is to be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. Chinese dumping has led to the destruction of manufacturing all over the West. On the other hand, China doesn’t get much out of the Kim dynasty North Korea except a rowdy, petulant client state. The cheap coal probably has lots of hidden costs that makes Virginia coal seem good value.

  • Ironwrkr

    I don’t know about your speculative thoughts on taking out Kim, but the only leverage on the norks is through China, and using our trade to access that leverage is a shrewd move.

  • gene

    Excellent analysis-Trump was a NYC developer-in this role he deals with corrupt city officials, crooked labor unions, the local la Cosa Nostra-so he is veteran at this. You neglected to mention his tweets-which have revealed the Democrat party as totally clueless-whilst they fumble on with crooks like Pelosi and the unbelieveably ignorant Maxine Waters…Trump has show them to be fools at best, traitors at worst.