Candidate Donald Trump tried to appeal to his right-wing base on the campaign trail by blasting the trade imbalance with China — flirting with a trade war that would be disastrous in the United States — but now that he’s about to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping, a less bombastic Trump is likely to appear.
But the most fearful anticipation about the visit isn’t about what Trump is going to say, but rather what he’s not going to say. The Trump administration, full of hard-line nationalists, seems to care little about human rights abuses in China — human rights lawyers jailed for life, harsh punishments for any major or minor political players who don’t fall in line with China’s leaders, an oppression of ordinary workers and simply the fear of free speech that China’s leaders have created among the people.)
The outrageous behavior of the government’s leaders has drawn strong criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the United States. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, hardly a bleeding heart liberal, wants Trump to call out Xi Jinping.
“It is imperative,” Rubio says, “that the president raised the plight of political prisoners and human rights activists by name.” If Trump does that, Rubio believes it might mean more humane treatment for those prisoners.
The senator, and others who want Trump to show some backbone on human rights, aren’t likely to be holding their breath. Trump’s focus will be talking tough on trade while making deals behind closed doors. He wants what Trump always wants — a show with little substance but a chance for him to huff and puff. (The president also has criticized a chemical attack by the Assad regime in Syria, but he mainly uses the issue as one to attack what he has said is President Obama’s lack of action there — though Trump previously had advocated staying out of Syria.)
If the president is to fulfill a significant part of his duty — namely, being the leader of the free world — then he has a moral obligation to lead the way on human rights and to use the considerable political and financial clout of the United States to force oppressive nations to change their ways. But before he could do that, Trump would have to have a personal interest in the issue, and he doesn’t seem to have one.
This is a major test for Donald Trump, who has no experience in foreign policy and has surrounded himself with advisers (with a couple of exceptions) who subscribe to the “America First” jargon Trump used in his inaugural address.
The brighter the light on Trump, the more trouble he seems to create. This is a major foreign policy test of his presidency, and the world is watching. And worrying.