[In his remarks on the Trump administration's policy towards China at the Hudson Institute on October 4, 2018, Vice President Mike Pence] attempted to shift public scrutiny from Russia to China. ... He asserted that Russian efforts to interfere in America’s electoral process "pales in comparison to what China is doing."
Trump miscalculated that he could muscle China into making concessions to his trade demands ... He has not been able to budge [Chinese President] Xi Jinping, who has his own domestic politics to manage. The likelihood of Trump being able to extract concessions from Xi on trade issues is declining by the day. The more the narrative hardens in Beijing that Trump seeks to derail China’s rise, and not just solve trade irritants, the less political space there is for Xi to offer any concessions on Trump’s demands.
We experienced an anomalous period when Ma [Ying-jeou], Obama, and Xi were in office where relations between Taipei, Washington, and Beijing were largely constructive. Some of the muscle memory in Washington atrophied a bit. With the elections of Tsai [Ing-wen] and Trump, things have reverted back to the historical mean of increased sensitivity around Taiwan.
[Wang Qishan appears likely to] play a leading role in overseeing U.S.-China relations. ... Wang will operate at a more strategic level, in theory to help keep the relationship from going off of the rails. ... [However,] Trump really values being the person in the cockpit steering U.S.-China relations. ... So I think Wang Qishan’s impact on the relationship remains an open question.
If implemented, the steel and aluminum tariffs would represent one of the most lopsidedly self-destructive U.S. trade policy decisions in recent memory. ... The tariffs will hurt the U.S. economy, cost U.S. jobs, and create inflationary pressure. By doing harm to U.S. allies, this action also undermines America's ability to attract support for an effective, multilateral strategy for dealing with China's unfair trade practices. ... [Mr. Trump] has given China a gift.
One of the notable aspects of this trip [to China and other countries in Asia] is the paucity of outcomes it produced. ... It appears Donald Trump invested a lot of energy into developing good chemistry with other leaders, but we haven’t yet seen that translate into good outcomes for U.S. citizens.
Drawing "red lines" for North Korea would be ill advised. For one, "red lines" imply a certain automaticity of response without regard for situational factors that cannot be accounted for in advance. Drawing "red lines" also implies that any North Korean action just short of the line would be viewed as tolerable and unlikely to elicit a sharp U.S. response, thus creating an unintended dynamic of signaling that certain North Korean provocations would be acceptable as long as they didn’t cross the "red line." In this sense, a certain degree of strategic ambiguity serves the interest of sobering North Korean behavior.
Rather than publicly articulating a "red line," the better focus of U.S. government attention would be to forge strong internal clarity on what top national interests it must protect on the Korean Peninsula. In the case of North Korea, the United States should concentrate on protecting the U.S. homeland against attack or blackmail of an attack, preventing proliferation of nuclear or missile technology from North Korea, upholding the credibility of alliance commitments, and preventing war. Protecting these top interests should be the focus of U.S. efforts, not defending an arbitrary line and thereby creating expectations of an automatic and overwhelming response if the arbitrary line is crossed.
The dual-freeze approach is China's attempt at buck-passing and moral equivalency between U.S. actions and North Korean actions. ... Buck-passing in the sense that Beijing is not making a genuine effort to leverage a freeze. They are making a genuine effort to pin responsibility on the United States.