Trump should copy Reagan and end détente — with China

President Trump seems resigned to the expectation that China will be of no help in resolving the North Korea challenge. That he (and his predecessors) ever believed otherwise is the most salient evidence of the consensus by successive U.S. administrations that a soft touch toward the People’s Republic of China is in order because it is a growing, influential power. Soon, so the argument goes, the PRC will be the largest economy in the world and an able military power, capable of altering outcomes in ways detrimental to the United States. The U.S. must avoid confrontation lest this burgeoning power react in kind.

Wrong. It’s the same thinking — yes, in a quite different context and time — that led earlier presidents to accept accommodation with the USSR during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan recognized that the policy benefited the Soviet Union and that Moscow was in no position to dictate terms once pressure was applied. President Trump should take this approach toward the PRC. Doing so would lead to a more cooperative China.

There are several manifestations of America’s 21st-century détente policy toward Beijing beside Washington’s failure to hold Beijing to account over its rogue client regime in Pyongyang. These include the tepid U.S. response to China’s outlandish claims of sovereignty in the East and South China Seas, and Washington’s overall reluctance to acknowledge and counter Beijing’s growing military capabilities; complete silence as the PRC has violated at least the spirit if not the letter of its agreements to let Hong Kong develop with its own political system since the British handover in 1997; and the snubs, by presidents of both parties, to democratic Taiwan in ways large and small, to avoid irking China.