Under Trump, the US Strategy for Countering China Is Mimicking China

Andreea Brinza | 31 october 2020

More than 70 years ago, when the United States was facing the threat of Soviet Communism, George Kennan advised the U.S. to be the best it can be, in order to attract other countries into the democratic sphere and make democracy the most coveted political system. Today, the United States under Donald Trump seems happy to ignore that advice. It is engaged more and more in replicating the methods and propaganda of the Chinese government than in promoting democratic alternatives.

All started when, after years of criticizing the Belt and Road Initiative’s wave of Memoranda of Understating (MoUs), in 2019, the United States started its own wave of MoUs, but targeting Huawei (without explicitly mentioning it). Over the past year, the U.S. has signed this type of MoU with almost all the 17+1 countries (the 17+1 is a Chinese mechanism of dialogue between China and 17 countries from the Central and Eastern Europe). With every MoU signed, the United States scored a success in the CEE region – a region perceived by some American experts as being under Chinese influence. Even Serbia, a state sometimes described as a Chinese client state, recently joined the club. But, unlike the other CEE countries, Serbia didn’t sign the standard MoU targeting Huawei; instead a clause targeting “untrusted vendors” was added into an MoU signed between Serbia and Kosovo and mediated by the United States.

Above and beyond the MOUs, the United States has been copying China’s 17+1 mechanism through the Three Seas Initiative. While this forum was started as a regional initiative for 12 European Union countries between the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Black Sea, the U.S. has been more and more involved since 2017. As of late, Washington has even begun to promote the initiative as an alternative to China’s 17+1. In a letter to Albania’s prime minister, Donald Trump said very bluntly that “I am also pleased by Albania’s strong role in the Three Seas Initiative – a transparent, market-based, and fair alternative to China’s 17+1 format, which I urge you to exit.” Keep in mind that Albania is not in the Three Seas Initiative, as it is not an EU member state. It seems the United States is eager to replicate China’s 17+1 blunder.

In the meantime, at the geoeconomic level, the United States under Donald Trump started assimilating Chinese behaviors too. One of the first visible steps was taken when Trump forced Google, Intel, and other U.S. and non-U.S. tech companies to go against demand, contracts, and the free market and stop selling products to Huawei. In other words, the Trump administration used these American private companies in the same way it is afraid China would use Huawei and other Chinese companies: as tools to advance the government’s interests and gain geopolitical advantages.

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This article has been published by Andreea Brînză, Vice President of RISAP, in the The Diplomat. You can read the full article in The Diplomat.

Photo Credits: Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign (Flickr/ Gage Skidmore)

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Andreea Brinza

Andreea Brinza is a researcher and the Vice President of RISAP. Her interests are related to the geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics of the Asia-Pacific region and especially China. Her research focuses on the Belt and Road Initiative.

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