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Trump Details Areas Where His Administration Views China As A Threat


When viewed from Washington, D.C., China looks like a threat. That's how the Trump administration labels China in its new National Security Strategy. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports on how that label looks from China.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The initial response from China came from its embassy in Washington, calling the Trump administration's national security report self-serving and contradictory of its past inclination to partner with China. Graham Webster, a U.S.-China relations researcher at Yale Law School, says, however you frame it, the official U.S. stance on China has just changed dramatically.

GRAHAM WEBSTER: This is pretty much a direct about-face from where they were in the Obama plan, where they would talk about welcoming China's rise in a certain way.

SCHMITZ: That certain way meant the Obama administration exhibited a cautious embrace of China, acknowledging the country's rise and projecting hope that it could be done in a friendly manner.

WEBSTER: By the end of the administration, they had victories to claim, in that respect. There's climate change and the Paris Agreement, where China and the U.S. played a big role. There was cooperation on disaster response and public health. And there was even sort of a breakthrough on cybersecurity, where they thought they might get to a position of the two countries promoting norms together.

SCHMITZ: There were no such Kumbayah moments inside the Trump administration's first national security report. The report mentioned China 23 times, nearly twice as many mentions than it got from the Obama administration. And not once was China framed in a positive light. It said that for years, the U.S. supported China's rise in the hopes that its political system would open up, but that, in fact, the opposite has occurred, and now China is threatening its neighbors, stealing U.S. technology and jobs and exporting unsavory elements of its authoritarian system, like corruption and mass surveillance, throughout the world - pretty harsh words from a president who, on the surface, seems to get along well with China's president, Xi Jinping.

China's embassy in Washington was surprised, too. In a statement, it said, it is completely egotistical for any nation to put its interests above the common interests of other nations and the international community. It will lead to a path of self-isolation. This comes as individuals within Trump's own administration are wrapping up investigations into China's trading practices - investigations that, once they conclude, may enable the president to take action against China in the form of tariffs and trade barriers. The question is, will he? Again, Yale University's Graham Webster.

WEBSTER: What will the dynamic be in the White House? Will the president flinch if China takes some measures that create pain in the U.S. economy? Will the White House instead double down, and will there be a trade war? What does a trade war even mean?

SCHMITZ: All of these questions, says Webster, are unanswerable because of a lack of coordination inside the White House about what to do about China. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Shanghai.


Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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