June 17, 2024
While American negotiators focus on trade and tariffs, President Xi is preparing his country for a painful economic retreat. The U.S. must plan accordingly.
President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017.
President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017.

The emerging consensus about the U.S.–China trade standoff is that both sides are settling in for “the long haul,” as suggested in recent headlines from around the world using precisely that phrase. It seems obvious, though, that the “the long haul” means very different things to the two sides.

In the U.S., the body politic and the media are already consumed by a presidential election that is still 18 months away. They see Chinese president Xi Jinping as a strongman with a lifetime appointment and control over the political, military, and financial levers of power in his country. The conventional wisdom seems to be that President Xi can wait out President Trump while pressuring various elements of the Trump’s electoral coalition, including blue-collar manufacturing workers and farmers, in hopes that his bid for reelection will fail.

But in China, the political establishment, which includes state-controlled media, is creating an alternative reality for public consumption, derived from what Xi himself is saying.

It’s always best when trying to assess China’s intentions to listen carefully to its leaders. They tend to speak with clear intent. In Xi’s precise words about the trade standoff, he is preparing China for what he calls “a new Long March.” He’s not saying “we’re in this for the long haul” or “this will be a long-term challenge.” While both may be true, the words he has chosen instead are not accidental. They connote something far more profound than a political cycle or two. Xi understands that China is edging along the precipice of a significant financial crisis, if not worse, and that Beijing cannot stop it. He is preparing the Chinese public for this eventuality.

As an historic event, the Long March was a massive military retreat by the Red Army in the face of likely annihilation by the Chinese Nationalist party’s army. It led to Mao Tse Tung’s consolidation of power within the Communist party and, some years later, the party’s assumption of power. Mao declared the Long March “a propaganda force” that allowed him to solidify the image of the Red Army and ultimately the Communist party as the decisive actor in China.

[…]

Loading