I'm not sure that there's anything too surprising about the Republican presidential candidates' constant bashing of China. The nation has a terrible record on human rights, is increasingly aggressive in their military posturing, props up North Korea, one of the world's most cruel and inhumane dictatorships, is a constant source of seemingly state-sanctioned cyberattacks, and indeed does not run their markets to the benefit of the United States because why would they.
There are two ways to engage with any very powerful nation that is doing things we don't like. The first is to, well, engage. The second is what the new would-be leaders of the free world are doing.
This week’s Chinese stock market crash — and the resulting turmoil in U.S. markets — prompted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to demand the White House cancel next month’s state visit by China’s president. Donald Trump said he’d treat the Chinese president to McDonald’s instead of a fancy dinner. [...]
But while scapegoating Beijing and its questionable economic policies may seem like an appealing campaign tactic, China specialists – including many in the GOP – warn that Republicans run the risk of looking ignorant about U.S.-Chinese ties.
Run the risk, you say? Hmm.
The problem here, yet again, is that the Republican base will no longer tolerate nuance. You don't get to have a twelve-point plan for improving our relationship with China, you don't even get a two-point plan. It's China is bad or nothing. Cuba? Bad. Russia? Bad, though you'll still see conservative swoons over their top-notch strongman. Former Republican candidate Jon Huntsman, quoted in the piece, has a firm grasp of the America-China relationship and some grounded ideas in how to engage the nation so as to maximize our impact when negotiating with them—and this is why his presidential campaign went exactly nowhere, and why he is treated with suspicion in his party now.
The good news is that this may be one area where even the most belligerent of candidates know full well they're lying to their audience. This is most obviously true of Scott Walker, but it's difficult to imagine even a President Donald Trump doing much to (intentionally) damage American access to Chinese markets. It's just red meat for a Republican base that cannot function without the xenophobic rhetoric of the Cold War, and has been grasping for new existential threats ever since.