But as someone who has spent years with the knife edge of the Chinese Communist Party bearing down on my throat for my human rights work, I know that the president is on to something. Tariffs and economic threats may be blunt tools, but they are the kind of aggressive tactics necessary to get the attention of the CCP regime, which respects only power and money. It’s not just about “winning,” as the president sometimes puts it, and it’s not simply about trade: It’s about justice, and doing what’s right for ordinary Chinese and American people.
Presidents before Trump naively believed that China would abide by international standards of behavior if it were granted access to institutions like the World Trade Organization and generally treated as a “normal” country. But that path proved mistaken, and Beijing ignored Western pressure on matters from human rights to the widespread theft of intellectual property. Trump, whatever his flaws, grasps this reality.
Unlike many of his predecessors in the White House, Trump appears to understand innately the hooliganism and brutality at the heart of the CCP. He comprehends that — whether in the realm of trade, diplomacy or international order — dictatorships do not commonly play by the rules of democratic nations. While past administrations have curried favor with the CCP (“appeasement” is not too strong a word), Trump has made excising the party’s growing corrosion of U.S. society — from business and the media to education and politics — a focus.