US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. [Photo/Agencies]


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The Trump administration, in its continuing efforts to burn the house down before leaving office, has crossed a dangerous red line with China days before incoming President Joe Biden takes office.

In a cowardly act of sabotage of the incoming administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lifted what he called “self-imposed” restrictions on US interactions with Taiwan.

Pompeo is part of a small group of foreign policy hawks who seek to “decouple” the US from China for ideological reasons.

This group wants to end the commercial ties that have benefited both sides, to give the US more leverage to contain China. This presumably includes the flexibility to use military force.

This fantasy has tremendous appeal to Trump’s base, who blame China for everything going wrong in their lives – from the deteriorating economic plight of US workers to the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in their country.

Finding an external enemy to blame is a standard play of every populist government, especially when the problems at home seem too complex to solve with sound policy.

As the Trump administration progressed, diplomacy with China was increasingly conducted for the sake of firing up domestic audiences, not for resolving actual areas of disagreement, or helping Americans.

Pompeo is aware that the Biden administration plans to resume the use of career diplomats instead of Fox News pundits to conduct its foreign policy.

This means more nuanced relations, where the US and China would seek to find areas of cooperation, set aside differences when possible, and minimize conflict to the greatest extent possible.

Pompeo’s move will make this improvement in ties unlikely. In fact, it could even lead to armed conflict as some observers warned.

The bedrock of US-China ties is an agreement on the one-China principle. This bit of diplomatic slight of hand means both sides recognize that China was not divided by a civil war (1945-1949).

The Chinese central government has repeatedly showed with policies, words and actions that it will respond militarily if Taiwan moves toward independence. This would obviously include setting up “sovereign diplomatic relations” with the United States.

This is the trap that Pompeo is setting for the Biden administration.

Pompeo’s move is so inflammatory that the Trump administration did not choose to do it over the last four years. That is because the US knew it would simply raise the temperature while accomplishing nothing.

Trump, during his time in office, frayed ties with the closest allies of the United States. NATO is weakened, and Europe has determined the US is no longer a reliable ally. The US border with Canada is largely closed, and most Canadians don’t want it opened again. Trump’s foreign policy, far from making America great again, has left the country weakened and isolated.

China and the US do not need to be enemies. They are competitors, but this does not mean they need to have military conflict or enter a Cold War.

There are many areas, including global warming, environmental protection, and global trade, where both nations need to cooperate.

It is a right-wing fantasy to think the US is powerful enough that it could manipulate China, if only there were no economic ties. The US couldn’t manipulate Afghanistan or Iraq either.

Many people fear the increasingly unstable and erratic Trump administration will start a war in his final days in office. Pompeo’s latest move does something even more nefarious. It kneecaps the incoming Democratic administration from Day One, and sets up the Biden administration for lose-lose diplomatic or even military quagmire.