Without elections of its own to bother with, China picks its favored candidates in the US and Taiwan 

Without elections of its own to bother with, China picks its favored candidates in the US and Taiwan 

5 minutes, 34 seconds Read

The West’s adversaries — China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — share the common goal of undermining America’s leadership in the international order.   

They are coordinating more closely than anything observed on the world stage since the collusion of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, the Axis powers of World War II. 

Like the West’s mortal enemies from that earlier generation, today’s geostrategic opponents employ a variety of instruments to divide, weaken and subvert America’s democracy. 

They exploit the West’s very strengths — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly — to sow discord and dissension, suspicion and even paranoia among Americans.  They strive to turn citizen against citizen, group against group, each vying to save U.S. democracy from the other side’s perceived threats.  

America’s foes hope to foment domestic clashes to such an intense degree that the tensions will approach a new U.S. civil war. Preoccupied with fighting one another, Americans would be effectively disabled from coping with the multifront external aggression. 

U.S. adversaries are betting that the open democratic system they see as the U.S. arrogantly touting its governance model for the world will prove to be its own undoing. Chain’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin said in their joint statement in 2022 that each country (by which they mean each ruling regime) can ”decide whether their State is a democratic one.” 

Two authentic democracies, recognized by the world as such, challenge that authoritarian presumption. The United States and Taiwan will hold critical elections in 2024, each with three viable contenders.  

President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party are so afraid of the Chinese people, they refuse to allow them to express themselves through elections, preferring instead to intervene in Western elections and try to influence the results most favorable to CCP interests.  

On Taiwan, they oppose Vice President William Lai, the candidate of the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party, which refuses to accept China’s distorted version of Taiwanese history and its sinister plan for Taiwan’s future. The DPP reflects the views of the Taiwanese people who, having rid their country of Chiang Kai-Shek’s anti-communist dictatorship decades earlier, have no desire to submit to an even more vicious oppression under the CCP. 

Taiwan’s voters will decide next month whether Lai or his challengers, who favor closer relations with China — Kuomintang candidate Hou Yu-ih and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan’s People Party — are more likely to advance Taiwan’s security interests. 

In the United States as well, China has multiple candidates to consider, with recent polls indicating the field has narrowed to incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden and, for the Republicans, either former President Donald Trump or the surging former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. 

Unlike with Taiwan, where Beijing’s antipathy to the DPP candidate is a matter of public record, it has kept its counsel on which American it would find most conducive to China’s interests. But, based on recent history, its relative preferences can be deduced. 

The Trump administration was the first in 40 years to challenge the wishful thinking dominating U.S. foreign policy that generous Western engagement would steadily move China away from its anti-Western hostility and into what Richard Nixon called “the family of nations.” 

But those transformative policies on China and Taiwan were the work of the impressive foreign policy and national security team Trump had appointed and enabled —until he soured on them — rather than the consequence of any policy determination of Trump himself. Haley was part of that impressive original team as she encountered America’s friends and foes at the U.N.   

Trump’s public remarks since the 2020 election, as well as revelations of his private views from his former appointees,reveal his lack of substantive convictions on matters of foreign policy. That posture is quite welcome in Beijing and Moscow but is so contrary to the positions of Haley and the other former Trump appointees that there is no prospect of their reuniting under a possible Trump presidency. 

For that reason, China — which, according to intelligence reporting, interfered in the 2022 midterm elections — has indicated a preference for Trump in 2024, expecting his presidency, without its earlier “hardline” national security team, to be far more accommodating this time around. 

Beijing would also not be unhappy with another Biden term, even though its policies are now closer to those of the early Trump tenure than Trump himself presently is. It also could harbor the expectation that Biden and his team will revert to their more dovish, Obama-era policies.  

Biden’s capitulation on Afghanistan and his protracted, temporizing response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine probably weigh in Xi’s mind in favor of another Biden term — especially with the inexperienced Kamala Harris waiting in the wings. 

At the same time, given that chaos and instability in America’s domestic situation are very much in China’s interest, another Trump presidency is a tempting prospect. Whether it is Trump or Biden, Beijing will find ample opportunities to exploit. The prospect of either would enable it to advance the erosion of America’s capabilities and will to resist China’s expansionist goals. 

Having had to face a strong woman leader in Taiwan for the past eight years, the one potential president Beijing definitely does not want to confront is Haley, who showed a tough-minded approach toward America’s adversaries, especially China, at the U.N. and in her campaign.   

It is ironic that the two most vociferous exponents of the argument that Trump presents an existential threat to America’s democracy are Biden and the Democrats on one side and former New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie on the other. Despite the reality, however, that both have the potential to derail Trump’s candidacy politically, neither Biden nor Christie will step aside and allow Haley an unimpeded opportunity to eliminate the Trump danger. Christie is now merely splitting the anti-Trump primary vote. And Biden is probably the only Democrat who cannot defeat Trump in 2024. 

The national interest requires more from each of them if they believe the fate of the Republic depends on this election. 

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He served in the Pentagon when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia and was involved in Department of Defense discussions about the U.S. response. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.  

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