IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

China doesn't want to defeat us, it wants to 'replace' us

If there's a race underway for 21st-century international primacy, what more could Donald Trump do to cede the United States' leadership role?
Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping steps out from behind China's flag as he takes his position for his joint news conference with President Barack Obama, Friday,...

A leading CIA expert of Asia-Pacific said something at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday that raised a few eyebrows, and for good reason. NBC News reported:

Beijing does not want to go to war with the U.S. but is attempting to undermine Washington's global position by using all avenues available to it, said Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the CIA's East Asia mission center."I would argue ... that what they're waging against us is fundamentally a cold war -- a cold war not like we saw during THE Cold War [between the U.S. and the Soviet Union] but a cold war by definition," he told the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado."The Chinese fundamentally seek to replace the United States as the leading power in the world," Collins added.

I think this assessment sounds about right. I also think Donald Trump is creating the conditions necessary to help Beijing achieve its goals.

If there's a race underway for 21st-century international primacy, what more could the Republican president do to cede the United States' leadership role?

Longtime readers may recall that throughout his presidency, Barack Obama at times seemed preoccupied with China's attempts at expanding its spheres of influence -- and the Democrat took more than a few steps to counter those efforts.

For Obama, U.S. trade policy was focused on countering China. U.S. policy in the arctic was about China. U.S. policy in the Caribbean was heavily influenced by China. U.S. policy towards India came against a backdrop of Chinese interest in the region.

In the Trump era, however, China's influence is growing largely unchecked. Indeed, Trump seems eager to drive others into Beijing's arms.

As the Republican alienates Latin America, for example, China is strengthening its ties in the region. While Trump expresses his contempt for the European Union, he's also pushing China and the EU closer together. Even in the Middle East, Xi Jinping recently told members of the Arab League that China would like to form a strategic partnership to become "the keeper of peace and stability in the Middle East, the defender of equity and justice, promoter of joint development, and good friends that learn from each other," (As Axios noted at the time, the rhetoric came with a pledge of $23 billion in loans and aid.)

And when Trump rejected the climate crisis as a "hoax" he'd prefer to ignore, it was Xi Jinping who appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he presented his country "as a defender of economic globalization and an exemplar of international cooperation on issues like climate change."

The week of Trump's inauguration last year, The New Republic's Jeet Heer wrote, "China is now closer to the international norm than the U.S. on such key issues as trade, climate change, and Israel-Palestine. Is America at risk of abdicating its international leadership role to China?"

Beijing is asking the same question, and it likes the apparent answer.