Donald Trump has no deep convictions about Hong Kong or democracy, he just wants to win an election
- The US president has changed his mind about the Hong Kong protests because taking Xi Jinping’s side would hurt his re-election chances
- His flip-flop on Hong Kong is also indicative of his failing trade war with China
Funny because his duplicity is about as subtle as the script of a low-budget sitcom, and tragic – mostly for himself – because it reveals that even he is becoming aware that his China strategy might be flawed.
The trade war will turn out to be neither a net benefit for the US economy nor an effective cudgel with which to force Beijing to make significant structural changes. The conflict Trump started will not get him and free-trade Republicans the Chinese market access that they want, nor will it lead to the political and religious freedom that most Democrats and others on the American ideological spectrum are calling for.
The Chinese government has made it clear it never had any intention of being Washington’s friend. Beijing, with its zero tolerance of political discourse that deviates from the party line and its expectation that all Chinese citizens, companies and counterparties will serve its goals, poses a major diplomatic challenge to the US.
But an economically destabilised China would make this challenge even more formidable. Trump will not rise to this occasion. He deserves credit for recognising Washington needed a new approach to Beijing. However, his mistake was to antagonise every American ally and go it alone with respect to China.
In Trump’s playbook, you don’t concede and change tack when your plan isn’t going as expected. You lash out at your political enemies, aiming to create as much chaos and spill as much blood as possible.
This is why Trump can’t get through any public appearance without airing an endless, repetitive list of grievances against any number of individuals, groups and institutions – including America’s own intelligence community – that question him.
It’s no wonder Trump is and will always be so besotted with China’s leaders, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Robert Delaney is the Post’s US bureau chief