Clear-Eyed Engagement: America’s New China Policy  

In the inaugural Frederic V. Malek Memorial Lecture at the Wilson Center, Vice President Mike Pence boiled down President Trump’s necessary revolution in U.S.-China relations to three words: “clear-eyed engagement.”

In this welcome address, Pence outlined a holistic policy based upon a realistic assessment of the nature and deeds of the Chinese regime. He declared defunct the decades of ideological, illusory, and—yes, venal—policy hopes that characterized the Washington foreign policy elite.

No longer will America and its leaders hope that economic engagement alone will transform Communist China’s authoritarian state into a free and open society that respects private property, the rule of law, and international rules of commerce. Instead, as the President’s 2017 National Security Strategy articulated, the United States now recognizes China as a strategic and economic rival.

To stress the point to the political, bureaucratic, and corporate elites who comprised the pro-Communist China lobby and ginned up the past failed policy, the vice president pointedly noted that President Trump’s “clear-eyed vision of the U.S.-China relationship” had the approval of the majority of Americans and, in a rare instance these days, bipartisan congressional support. In sum, for this pro-communist China lobby, reversing the new course will be damn near impossible, which is a damn good thing.

In his speech, the vice president necessarily recited the litany of Communist China’s human rights abuses, foreign adventurism and aggression, international trade violations, and other illegitimate actions both at home and abroad. Doing so, the vice president spoke eloquently on an issue he has long championed—religious freedom:

To uphold the values of freedom-loving people every year [everywhere], we’ve also called out the Chinese Communist Party for suppressing freedom of religion of the Chinese people. Millions of ethnic and religious minorities in China are struggling against the Party’s efforts to eradicate their religious and cultural identities.

By reciting this litany, Pence reminded the world that U.S. policy in dealing with this Communist regime will be akin to the truism “trust but verify,” a policy our Reaganite vice president knows well. “America is reaching out our hand to China,” he said. “And we hope that, soon, Beijing will reach back, this time with deeds, not words, and with renewed respect for America.”

This new U.S.-China policy, which could well be titled “Clear-Eyed Engagement,” doesn’t seek to “de-couple” the relations between the two nations, about which the vice president was clear: “The United States seeks engagement with China and China’s engagement with the wider world, but engagement in a manner consistent with fairness, mutual respect, and the international rules of commerce.” There is no better practical enunciation of the “deeds doctrine” in dealing with China.

As the vice president expressly stated, with clear-eyed engagement, the “deeds doctrine” rarely permit an improvement in U.S.-China relations because, in its own way, China’s Communist rulers have made improvements almost impossible. 

All that Beijing is doing today, from the Party’s great firewall in cyberspace or to that great wall of sand in the South China Sea, from their distrust of Hong Kong’s autonomy, or their repression of people of faith all demonstrate that it’s the Chinese Communist Party that has been “de-coupling” from the wider world for decades.

Thus, does the Trump Administration’s policy rightly “de-couple” the Chinese people from the Communist regime that is 

. . . building a surveillance state unlike anything the world has ever seen . . . And China is now exporting to countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East the very same technological tools that it uses in its authoritarian regime: tools that it’s deployed in places like Xinjiang; tools that it’s deployed often with the help of American companies.

Given Clear-Eyed Engagement, the vice president’s calling out of the National Basketball Association and Nike was not done just to score domestic political points. It was a word of caution to all American corporations that they, too, would be wise to practice their own Clear-Eyed Engagement policy and deeds doctrine when dealing with China. If not, such companies are in danger of abetting the regime’s arms ramp-up through its “military-civilian fusion” requirements and the exporting of totalitarian oppression, including back home to America. Pence continued: 

The Chinese Communist Party is also continuing to reward and coerce American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and federal officials to influence the public debate here in America. . . . lately China has also been trying to export censorship—the hallmark of its regime. By exploiting corporate greed, Beijing is attempting to influence American public opinion, coercing corporate America. And far too many American multinational corporations have kowtowed to the lure of China’s money and markets by muzzling not only criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, but even affirmative expressions of American values. A progressive corporate culture that willfully ignores the abuse of human rights is not progressive; it is repressive.

For American companies, the solutions are quite logical. If the nature of the Communist regime doesn’t change (and it won’t), such companies should look to other nations—like the United States—to manufacture their goods and provide their services.

Most importantly, they should be asked to remember “[w]hen American corporations, professional sports, pro athletes embrace censorship, it’s not just wrong; it’s un-American. American corporations should stand up for American values here at home and around the world.”

As the responsible corporate community so stands, the U.S. government will continue to stand for liberty in Taiwan and Hong Kong. As the vice president trenchantly observed, “America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people.” Equally, because “nothing in the past year has put on display the Chinese Communist Party’s antipathy to liberty so much as the unrest in Hong Kong,” the United States will stand with Hong Kong, “a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty.”

This is why the censorious regime doesn’t want its subjugated people to see the fruits of liberty on display in Hong Kong and Taiwan, for they believe the fraudulent pretexts for the Communist rule. For decades, the Communist regime has lied to the Chinese people that the enemy of prosperity and stability is liberty. Yet, as Hong Kong and Taiwan prove, the enemy of stability, prosperity, and liberty is the Chinese Communist Party.

And, implicit in the vice president’s speech, if the Communist Party resorts to violent repression in Hong Kong as it did in Tiananmen Square, this time the Trump Administration will ensure there will be consequences for the butchers.

After decades of having its way with Washington and, now, confronted with the Trump Administration’s Clear-Eyed Engagement policy with its deeds doctrine, the vice president’s political calculation is self-evident: “China wants a different American President, which is the ultimate proof that President Trump’s leadership is working.” I would add, because he is too humble, the Chinese Communists want a different vice president, too.

President Trump and Vice President Pence understand the fundamental crux in the U.S.-China relationship. Freedom is the bane of Communist rule. But, in America, Pence said, 

We will continue to believe that the values of democracy—of individual liberty, of freedom of religion and conscience, the rule of law—serve American and global interests because they are, and will ever be, the best form of government to unleash human aspirations and guide the relations between all the world’s nations and peoples.


About Thaddeus G. McCotter

The Hon. Thaddeus McCotter is the former chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, current itinerant guitarist, American Greatness contributor, and Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show."

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

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