While former National Security Adviser John Bolton is determined to cast President Trump as soft on China – leaking portions of his forthcoming memoir alleging his boss sought assistance from China in the 2020 election – Bolton insisted that President Trump had “reversed” previous administrations’ “surrender” to China at a 2019 Wall Street Journal Chief Financial Officer Conference.
The infamous war hawk and controversial Trump appointee discussed U.S. cybersecurity initiatives with Wall Street Journal Associate Editor John Bussey at the conference. Given China’s frequent hacks directed at U.S. corporates and theft of intellectual property, the conversation centered on the country.
Bussey inquired of Bolton, at the time a member of the Trump administration: “So Xi Jinping ultimately does what? How does this play out? What does Xi Jinping do to satisfy U.S. demands?”
Bolton responded, noting that President Trump’s approach represents a stark shift from past presidents’ continual failure to engage the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) on their exploitation of bodies such as the World Trade Organization and lauds him for rejecting the prevailing Washington consensus that China’s ownership of U.S. debt limits U.S. grounds for recourse.
Bolton emphasizes that President Trump “reversed” this job-costing and national security-threatening China approach that he likens to “a path to surrender”:
I think they’re still absorbing the fact that we’re not accepting that they get to play by different rules. You cannot say that we’re living in a free-trade world when one of the major economic powers is pursuing unabashedly mercantilist policies inside the structure of what should be a free trade organization. You can’t say that somehow, Donald Trump is violating principles of free trade when he is trying to deal with an economic power that couldn’t care less about free trade. Now, will the Chinese change that? I don’t know, but are we going to live with it forever? Is the argument, well my goodness, you can’t do this, you can’t do that because China holds all this U.S. debt? That sort of formulation which we’ve heard for years is a path to surrender. I just think that’s been a mistake, and I think President Trump has reversed that. So, as you play that out, it’s really now for the Chinese to say, jeez they found out about us, and now, what are we gonna do?
Commenting on the CCP’s response, Bussey adds: “Or the Chinese do what they’ve done which is play rope-a-dope, wait it out, another election, another president, another round of negotiations.”
Insisting that President Trump will win in 2020, Biden dismisses the notion that the administration would soften their approach:
Good luck with that. [Laughs]. Let’s put it this way: if President Trump wins, which we’re certainly planning on, do they think they’re going to get better terms in the second term? I wouldn’t count on that.
The excerpts of Bolton’s book appear to renege on this explicit endorsement of President Trump’s China approach.
He alleged a disparity between the Trump administration’s China rhetoric and policy outputs, insisting the approach “is not grounded in philosophy, grand strategy or policy. It is grounded in Trump.” Bolton’s lucrative million-dollar book deal currently involved an extensive PR campaign certainly presents his dramatic pivot in an interesting – and perhaps calculated – light.