A Kingdom United against Trump

Daniel Russel on the Pod Save the World Podcast

ASPI Vice President of International Security and Diplomacy Daniel Russel joined Tommy Vietor and Ben Rhodes for an episode of Pod Save the World. Their wide-ranging conversation covers several topics, including U.S. President Donald Trump's recent visit to the United Kingdom, the state of U.S-China relations, the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the North Korea challenge.              

After discussing the UK trip, Russel explains the difficult road ahead for Sino-U.S. relations. As the U.S.-China trade war presses on, Russel believes that “we are pretty close to locking down a lose-lose [outcome in the U.S.-China trade negotiations] because the current trade battle and technology battle isn’t solving any problems, it is exacerbating them. It’s sort of a duel with chainsaws, and nobody is going to come away whole from that.” Not only has there been no redress on the main issues, such as forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, and industrial subsidies, according to Russel none of these areas were truly addressed in the agreement that “blew up.” Additionally, Russel warns, “we are creating a political environment in which no one who is involved in decision making in China dares to advocate for reform, dares to stand up and encourage shifts in the direction we are asking for because the United States is defining the relationship as implacably adversarial.”

Next, Vietor and Rhodes ask Russel about the tragic events of June 4, 1989. Russel notes that 1989 was a year of considerable turmoil in the communist world and China’s paramount leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, had just begun a series of economic reforms leaving students, workers, and others around China agitated about corruption and unfairness, leading to the large-scale protests at Tiananmen Square. Ultimately, Russel explains, Deng made a fundamental choice which has carried over into modern-day China: that “there is no price too high to pay for the preservation of the authority of the communist party” and that reform must take a backseat to the security of ideological control and conformity. “The astonishing thing is the success the party has had in the ensuing 30 years in this Orwellian effort to airbrush out of history the very fact of Tiananmen,” notes Russel. Today, due to the surge in Chinese wealth, national power, and technology, it's easier than ever for the government to constrain the space for political dissent. “We have seen big brother, but we have never seen big brother with big data," states Russel. "This experiment is either a pendulum or a spiral — we don’t know if it is going to swing back or if it is going to intensify.”

On the North Korea challenge, while Trump gets a lot of credit for not making a terrible deal in Hanoi, Russel believes the result should not have been a surprise given that there was no preparation or talks leading up to the summit, and there was no clear U.S. strategy. For Russel, multiple signs suggest that North Korea has outmaneuvered the Trump administration thus far. “Kim Jong Un is basically willing to rent a suspension of tests for some [economic] relief. He is not offering to stop manufacturing more nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. [And] according to the [Defense Intelligence Agency] DIA, they are producing another weapon roughly every month,” explains Russel. 

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