The past four years have marked a comprehensive and necessary shift in the United States’ approach to China, a nation that has been impenetrable to democratic political reform that the neoliberal consensus wishfully thought free trade and multilateral institutional inclusion would bring. Authoritarianism has not slowed down, parallel to China’s rise, and as developing nations have continued to foster deeper and deeper relations with the CCP, multilateral strategies have become less and less meaningful.
Accordingly, the Trump administration has “adopted a competitive approach,” meant to considerably counter China with toleration for inevitable bilateral friction. While representatives from countries around the world have ignored and even commended China on their “contribution to the international human rights cause,” The US and Trump administration, more specifically, have spearheaded a realist ‘tough on China’ approach, holding the country accountable for its vast violations of religious and individual rights.
In response to the atrocities taking place in Xinjiang, President Trump signed into law the Uyghur Human Rights Act of 2020, a bill that bans immigration and freezes the assets of individuals involved with the internment camps, while also mandating the submission of reports to Congress that detail ongoing developments in the region. In addition, The US Treasury Department has sanctioned four Chinese government officials involved with the abuses; The State Department has imposed visa restrictions on Communist Party officials with ties to the camps and launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance to multilaterally counter Chinese behavior. The Department of Homeland Security has restricted the importation of goods made with forced labor, and The Department of Commerce, on multiple occasions, has placed firms with connections to Xinjiang on the US entity list. These are just some of the policies the Trump Administration has enacted to directly address religious internment camps, yet his broader approach also spans across multiple realms.
The President’s tough on China strategy also includes economic measures meant to contain and reduce Beijing’s malign behavior. Increased anti-dumping efforts and tariffs on everything from washing machines to automobiles are just part of signaling to the CCP that the United States will not prioritize business with a country that makes use of forced labor. This isn’t to say that tariffs are always the answer, in fact, they often aren’t, nonetheless, they have been an attempt to subvert the dominance of a country with little respect for human rights.
In an attempt to curb Chinese geopolitical hegemony further, the Trump administration has increased its support for Taiwan, which is considered a rogue province by the CCP. By restraining the proximity of Chinese influence, the US maintains key strategic leverage and buys time to negotiate and more effectively punish a relatively weaker China for its human rights abuses. Two massive weapons deals, naval activity in the Taiwan strait, two visits from high-level officials, a new de-facto embassy, and a recognition of the nation’s leadership are the product of an administration willing to stand up to China and work with strategic partners to further democratic interests.
This all isn’t to say President Trump has been perfect, his alleged rhetoric would obviously say otherwise, but rather it is a recognition of the paradigm-shifting policies the administration has adopted to significantly combat China’s abuse in all its forms.