Trump’s Grand Strategy on China

The former US president calls Chinese leader Xi Jinping a 'killer' over COVID-19 deaths
December 29, 2021 Updated: December 29, 2021

News Analysis

Former President Donald Trump recently outlined his diplomatic, economic, and military strategies on China.

On Dec. 19, Maria Bartiromo of Fox News got an exclusive interview with Trump. He dropped verbal bombs on China that got close to the real thing, including plans for a U.S. air base in Afghanistan and demands for $60 trillion in COVID-19 damages.

Trump is the most likely Republican presidential candidate in 2024 at a time when President Joe Biden suffers from historically low approval ratings. So what Trump thinks about China is of the greatest importance.

But mainstream media outlets only partially, if at all, covered what Trump had to say. Some tried to make him look soft on China, which could only be supported by out-of-context quotes that ignored the main points of his speech.

Provided here is a fuller account and analysis of the Trump-Bartiromo interview as it touched on China issues. In particular, this analysis looks at the interview for clues on Trump’s preferred grand strategy—including its diplomatic, economic, and military elements—on the issue of China.

America’s Low Point due to China and Allies

A recurring point during the Fox interview was that America is at a low point due to its biggest international adversaries.

“Our country has never been so disrespected as it is now by China, Russia, North Korea, and everybody else—Iran,” said Trump. “There’s never been a time like this. The Afghan withdrawal—I wanted to withdraw more than anybody, and I was doing it beautifully, with power and strength. The way he [Biden] just came in and surrendered—I think when China, when Russia, when these people are looking at what happened … I think it is the lowest point.”

Taliban terrorists
Taliban terrorists take control of the Afghan presidential palace after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021. (Zabi Karimi/AP Photo)

Trump’s Diplomatic Strategy on China

Trump’s diplomatic strategy with major adversaries like China is to first extend a friendly hand, to the point of flattery, and only later to resort to hard power strategies such as military containment or economic tariffs. This strategy was revealed in his initial friendly approach to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping, which included chocolate cake and an attempt to improve trade relations.

Trump’s perception of his positive relationship with Xi changed for the worse “once Covid came along, or the China virus as I call it, because it is a much more accurate term.”

When Trump said during the interview that “I had a great relationship with President Xi … I really believed he liked me, and I liked him,” Bartiromo broke in and said, “He’s a killer.”

Trump agreed. “He is a killer. But I had a great relationship with him. Once Covid came it was a different story. Because they have really, not only this country, they have really destroyed the world, the whole world, if you look at what’s going on.”

Sports Diplomacy

On the Olympics, Trump said that American athletes should compete in the Beijing 2022 Winter Games and “win every single medal.” He said of the proposed boycott by athletes, “I watched Jimmy Carter do it and it was terrible … it hurts the athletes.”

Much of the mainstream media reported Trump’s position on sending athletes to Beijing, but did not put it in context by quoting his next thought: “There are much more powerful things we can do than that [boycott]. … That’s not a powerful thing. It almost makes us look like sore losers.”

Here Trump is not likely to get much support from conservative China watchers. They tend to want tough talk on boycotting, or better yet, moving, the Games to a friendly democratic country like Japan or Canada.

Foreign Influence

Bartiromo pointed out that Biden has not, in the course of four meetings with Xi this year, brought up the origins of COVID-19. She asked why that might be.

Trump replied that Biden does not want to “because he’s afraid of him, and I think he’s afraid of the fact that they gave billions of dollars to his son.”

Bartiromo suggested, “So they have something on him.”

“Yeah, of course they do,” Trump replied.

“I asked friends of yours, the biggest people there are in terms of Wall Street: can you go into China and walk away with $1.5 billion dollars?” said Trump.

“These are … the guys with the big companies, that run the big companies, Wall Street firms. He said nobody does that, nobody. The most sophisticated guy on Wall Street can’t walk in and walk out in 10 minutes with $1.5 billion. And he [Hunter Biden] gets fees on all that money—tens of millions of dollars,” said Trump.

Hunter’s lawyers dispute the $1.5 billion figure. But it is now established that Hunter has engaged in very large business deals with China, from which his father may have financially benefited.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden waves as he walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter, Finnegan Biden (center) and son Hunter Biden (right) upon their arrival in Beijing on Dec. 4, 2013. (Ng Han Guan/AFP via Getty Images)

According to The Wall Street Journal: “The dealings got the younger Mr. Biden a discounted stake in a private-equity firm in China. … A Chinese energy tycoon gave Mr. Biden a 2.8-carat diamond, and entities linked to him wired nearly $5 million to Mr. Biden’s law firm, according to an investigation by Senate Republicans.”

In light of these facts, Trump’s diplomatic strategy on China will likely be to decrease the influence of foreign money in the United States, and to continue with attempts to personally appeal to Xi even as he twists the economic and military screws of hard power a few turns further to the right.

Trump’s Economic Strategy on China

During the Fox interview, Trump discussed how his China tariffs both increased funds in the U.S. Treasury, and incentivized companies to invest elsewhere.

“China economically has been ripping us off for many years,” Trump said. “I’ve been talking about it for a long time. Five hundred billion dollars a year [worth of ripoffs]. I’m the first one [to impose tariffs]—we’ve been taking in hundreds of billions of dollars [in tariffs] … from China.”

Trump pointed out that the tariff revenues and trade deals with China went to American farmers and manufacturers. “Our farmers are rich now because of the deal I made with China,” Trump said.

Trump returned to the issue of China tariffs later in his interview by saying that China’s annual $500 billion ripoff of America is “not sustainable.” He said that it could be opposed by “what I did with the taxes and tariffs on China.”

Trump said that America did not take in “ten cents” worth of tariffs prior to his administration. Biden used to argue against the tariffs, Trump said, but he has not canceled them because “it is so much money.”

Trump said that the tariffs caused companies to move back into the United States. “But now they stopped because they think he [Biden] is going to take the tariffs off, and that is a shame.”

COVID-19 Damages of $60 Trillion

The Trump-Bartiromo interview, which Fox edited, started with Trump stating about COVID-19: “I think the origins are so obvious. They came out of the Wuhan lab. And I think that if anyone thinks anything differently, they’re just kidding themselves.”

Trump said that people must ask whether China should pay reparations for COVID-19, which is eminently reasonable given arguments by Professor James Kraska, who holds dual appointments at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University, that China is legally responsible for up to “trillions” of dollars in damages.

The Epoch Times argued in May for at least $19 trillion in damages for 6.9 million deaths globally, including “economic damages from the lockdown, suffering to survivors, costs borne by society from hospitalization and new vaccines, future damages from the ongoing growth of the pandemic, or criminal penalties.”

During the Fox interview, Trump argued: “China doesn’t have the money to pay those reparations. I believe that worldwide, I’m not just talking about the United States, worldwide $60 trillion dollars of damages” are owed.

This could be an underestimate given all of the damages due to global economic dislocation and injuries.

memory of COVID-19 deaths
People walk past flags flying at half staff at the Washington Monument in memory of 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in Washington on Feb. 24, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Trump said that China must “do something to make up for what they have done. What they have done to the world is so horrible.”

On Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, Trump said that “he wanted to keep our country open to China, and I closed it. He wanted to keep our country open to Europe, and I closed it.”

Trump’s economic strategy on China will likely be to maintain tariffs, push for compensation over COVID-19 damages, and keep the U.S. economy open even as it closes to countries that pose an existential risk to the international system and American democracy.

Trump’s Military Strategy on China

One of the most interesting comments by Trump was when Bartiromo asked him, “Do you think that the Chinese will take over the Bagram Air Base?” His answer revealed a military strategy of containing China, and a forward-leaning posture against China’s nuclear weapons development. The “sovereignty” of Afghanistan, which is leaning toward an alliance with China, would have to be deprioritized relative to the superpower conflict between Washington and Beijing.

Trump replied to Bartiromo that there were six military air bases in Afghanistan. “I was going to bomb five and keep Bagram,” Trump said. Bagram air base, just 25 miles north of the capital city of Kabul, is the biggest air base in the country.

“But the reason I was going to keep it [Bagram] wasn’t for Afghanistan,” Trump said. “It was because of China. It’s one hour away from where they make their nuclear weapons. It has the largest runways and the most powerful runways for heavy [bombers?]—they [the runways] are very powerful and thick, in some cases eight feet of concrete.”

Trump pointed out that the United States spent billions of dollars building Bagram.

Bagram Air Base
A view of Bagram Air Base after all U.S. and NATO troops left, some 43 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 2, 2021. (Zakeria Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

Bartiromo suggested to Trump that when he invited Xi to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, China was already the biggest threat.

Trump answered, “Not only China, but China from an economic standpoint is massive. Russia’s not massive from that standpoint but their military power, and China’s a great military power [too].”

Trump said later in the interview that during his presidency, China and Russia were less aggressive. Bombers did not fly over Taiwan, and unlike during the Obama administration, Russia was not able to take territory from Ukraine.

This is largely true, and likely due to Trump’s prioritization of American military spending and economic competitiveness—two forms of hard power—as a counterweight against China’s territorial aggression.

In Ukraine, for example, Trump provided lethal military assistance to the Ukrainian military, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, that the Obama administration refused to supply. This, despite Trump being called pro-Russia by the mainstream press at a time when bringing Moscow in as an ally against Beijing would have been particularly useful.

The Ukraine and Afghanistan cases—both bordering major adversaries Russia and China—provide a clue as to Trump’s military strategy against America’s biggest adversaries. That strategy is containment from a position of strength, including through forward-deployed forces—for example, in Eastern Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Afghanistan—as well as the provision of increased lethal military assistance to “the enemies of our enemies,” including Taiwan.

Trump’s Grand Strategy on China

In the Fox interview, Trump effectively delivered a big picture to the public of the national security threats to America from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, in that order.

Trump discussed a grand strategy to defend America from China, including military, economic, and diplomatic sub-strategies. He addressed the issue of foreign influence through business relations and elite capture.

Trump indicated a forward-leaning approach to China that would rightly demand $60 trillion in global reparations, and contain China and Russia militarily from a position of strength that includes forward deployment of U.S. military forces, such as at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Anders Corr
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).