News Sips 1/16: Five Days, One China, Trump’s Intelligence, and Davos
Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the MLK Day, 2017 edition:
This Friday at noon, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. The preparations are already underway in Washington DC for the event, and, of course, the protests. Mr. Trump will be taking office with an approval rating below 50% (according to most polling). This isn’t terribly surprising given Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the fact that the country remains deeply divided. Compounding this is the fact that Mr. Trump has had no real political reason to strike a conciliatory tone with his previous opponents. While Mr. Trump has attempted to extend olive branches to Democrats, he has been, repeatedly rebuffed.
Mr. Trump will take power with a firmly Republican government, so it’s likely he won’t really need Democrats to be on board. This, of course, presents significant political pitfalls for Mr. Trump in the midterm elections in 2018 (see: Obama’s first midterm in 2010 after total Democrat control of government for two years) and his re-election bid in 2020.
Expect the crowd on Friday to be raucous. Mr. Trump’s supporters have been vocal in their support of him since the beginning and, similarly, Mr. Trump’s detractors are predicting the end of the world with Mr. Trump’s inauguration. There will certainly be some kind of fireworks when the two are pushed together in the crowded streets of DC. However, given that they have had to deal with protests and demonstrations for years, there’s likely to be a strong police and counter-terrorism presence in Washington that should hopefully prevent any disruptions to the inauguration.
The One China Debate
Since the Carter Administration, the United States has recognized the communist Chinese government in Beijing as the government of China. In exchange for this recognition, the Chinese government has taken no overt action to take the island of Taiwan (The Republic of China). The “Taiwanese” government sees itself as the legitimate government of China, albeit in exile (see: the communist takeover of China and the “end” of the Civil War in 1949) while the government in Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway state. The official policy of the United States has been to recognize that there is only “One China” and that its government is the communist one. However, we have maintained relations with Taiwan, which is a far-more west-friendly state than the communists on the mainland.
Enter Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has routinely critiqued the Chines government throughout the campaign trail about their artificial manipulation of currency and the trade imbalance the United States suffers at their hands. Mr. Trump has made no secret that he does not hold the Chinese leaders responsible, but rather, he acknowledges they are shrewd businessmen taking advantage of the political weakness in the United States. Mr. Trump has vowed to end this apparent mismatch in political will.
As part of Mr. Trump’s decision to shakeup the status quo between the United States and China, Mr. Trump has noted that he is not against a reconsideration of the “One China” policy. Between taking a call from the President of Taiwan (ostensibly just a “congratulations” call) and overtly saying in repeated interviews that he is not against renegotiation, Mr. Trump has firmly taken a stand against Beijing’s dominance of the bilateral ties between the United States and China.
Experts see this path a fraught with peril despite Mr. Trump’s assurances that it is merely a starting point for negotiations. China’s state-run media has repeatedly implied the threat of force (against Taiwan) in the event that the United States embarked on a renegotiation of One China. In the past, especially during times of transition in the United States, China has attempted to assert its authority. It looks as if Mr. Trump’s language is meant to subvert the continuation of this pattern. Further, especially given that there is a major Chinese Party Congress later in the year that will set the direction for the communist government for years to come, there is a benefit to strong language coming from the Central Party.
Expect Mr. Trump not to immediately start to poke the dragon over Taiwan, but rather to simply use it as a rhetorical device to leverage the Chinese into realizing that Mr. Trump is not the same type of politician that the United States has brought to the negotiating table in the past.
Since his election, Mr. Trump has waged a very public war of words with America’s clandestine service chiefs over leaks of information and conclusions that they drew about a host of issues. Starting with conclusions about Russia’s decision to attempt to influence the result of the American election through to a recent leak of a non-intelligence smear documents, Mr. Trump sees some of the political powerbrokers in the CIA and DNI (though, apparently not the FBI?) as being partisans of his opponents.
Trump took to Twitter multiple times to cast doubt on the conclusions of the CIA and DNI over allegations of Russian influence in the election. Following these tweets, and the revelation of a document clearly designed to portray Trump as illegitimate, Trump again took shots at top intelligence chiefs for the leak of information. Let’s just say there’s clearly a lot happening behind the scenes, as well. Mr. Trump alluded to this in a brief anecdote from his press conference last week in which he observed that he held a secret meeting with intelligence chiefs only to find out that the meeting had been leaked to the press (Trump maintained that it was he who scheduled and organized the meeting and that no one on his staff was made aware in order for Trump to be able to track down the leaker).
After the leak of the, now proven to be false, “dossier” about Trump, the President-Elect took to Twitter to compare the leaking of the document to something that would have been done by officials in Nazi Germany. Of course “reductio ad Hitlerum” is bound to start arguments. (We maintain he should have compared it to the actions taken by the Praetorian Guard in the Roman Empire). CIA Director Brennan attacked Trump publicly for this comparison, and Trump has since fired back on Twitter criticizing the job Brennan has done as CIA chief and insinuating that it was Brennan who leaked fake news to the press.
Here’s the important takeaway: for some reason things that are supposed to be secret are playing out totally in public view. Sure, people have a right to know about what’s going on in their government, but the fact that such a public disagreement is going on belies a huge problem in America’s clandestine services. Could this just be some huge, orchestrated agreement between Trump and the intelligence community to pretend to hate eachother and perhaps draw out spies from the shadows and make them cocky and prone to errors? Probably not, though that’s the way we’d write it if it were a novel. The more likely scenario is that America’s intelligence chiefs are political appointees and have an understandably human reaction to being criticized openly. However, you would think that people in such positions, despite the truth or falsity of the claims, would know to stay quiet and not give America’s enemies openings and divisions to exploit.
Some of the most powerful people in the world will be meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week. The annual forum is an opportunity for the world’s super-elite to meet and discuss the direction of the global economy. While this sort of meeting is always fertile ground for conspiracy theorists, the actual forum this year has two important, very real, circumstances taking place. First, Xi Jinping, the President of China, will be the first Chinese President to ever attend the meeting in the 47-year history of the meeting. Mr. Xi’s retinue includes Chinese billionaires and technology leaders. Clearly this is a not-too-subtle showing by the Chinese of how the balance of the world is taking an Eastward shift.
It is also notable because this is the first World Economic Forum since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. While both events are distinct, the backdrop for the world elites and business tycoons is one where they are facing significant pushback on the globalization message of the past decades. This is certainly an oversimplification of the overall direction of the world, but the concerns over growing income inequality as well as a rise of nationalism is certain to come up for discussion among the people who have made tremendous amounts of money on growing interconnectivity.
While the conspiracy theorist would think that the moneyed elites would look for a way to push back against growing Trump-like movements, there is also a school of thought that would argue the exact opposite might happen. Given that there is tremendous popular will for change, and that Mr. Trump’s economic platform could grow domestic production, there could be a rush back into domestic markets rather than foreign ones. This would present a very interesting dynamic shift from the economic positions of the last several decades, but it could certainly be seen as the smart investment for individuals looking to preserve their wealth and influence.
Obviously, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.