US President Donald Trump delivered a speech for more than two hours at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 2, which took place on the heels of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam. Trump's "epically long" speech at the CPAC was scanned by media outlets, which are berated by the US leader for what he calls "fake news."
An annual gathering of conservatives with high-profile speakers, the CPAC, inaugurated 45 years ago, is seen as the progenitor of modern conservatism. Former US president Ronald Reagan said in 1985, "CPAC is the opportunity to dance with the one who brung ya." Influential as it is, the CPAC is to some extent as important as the quadrennial Republican National Convention. For the conservatives of the Republican Party, the CPAC is the stage where they belong.
It was clear that the CPAC organizers put something between the lines when they chose the National Harbor, Maryland — "The Free State" — to host this year's event. Trump didn't miss the hint and took the opportunity to launch attacks on Democrats. Trump vent his fury from migration to trade, from the Green New Deal to socialism, and from tax cuts to freedom of speech. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his "gang of 'Angry Democrats'" bore the brunt of Trump's furious attack.
Just three days before the speech, Michael Cohen, once Trump's close friend and attorney, testified before the House Oversight Committee calling Trump a "racist" and a "conman." Since Trump took office, the Russiagate probe — he called it "witch hunt" — has been shadowing him incessantly. The probe was revived after Democrats who took back the House of Representatives didn't want to miss an opportunity to impeach Trump.
The CPAC gathering's cheers and applauses were a relief for Trump whose "ownership of the GOP was on vivid display again." Dissenting voices can hardly be heard within the Republican Party, which has been "Trumpized." As long as he maintains a strong grip on his base, Trump would continue to go his own way. In this context, the vetoes on Capitol Hill cannot prevent Trump from building the wall on the US-Mexico border and making other similar decisions. Die-hard Trump voters may not be in great numbers, but their energy is huge.
In his speech, Trump didn't spare the countries that are believed to take advantage of the US. He spoke about China 14 times, the most-mentioned foreign country. Trump, as always, criticized the huge trade deficit with China, jobs that the US has lost, unfair government subsidies, China slapping high tariffs on US cars, and even the Chinese people's "anchor babies."
Following the end of the Cold War, right-wing US conservatives have been fond of and good at seeking enemies. Therefore, it cannot be more topical for conservatives to talk about so-called China threat theory at their base camp. They aim at not only defeating China, but also uniting the US.
China is the subject that can unite both sides amid a polarized political environment in the US. Topics about China have been manipulated to relate to every American's interest and US national security, be it external or internal policymaking. Such a topic is the most popular election card. But unfortunately, such solid consensus between Democrats and Republicans cannot survive a fact check.
Controversial issues about China have also changed Democrats' and Republicans' subjects of interest. Republicans who value free trade launched rounds of tariff war; Democrats who attach importance to human rights began to worry about China's space program and cyberspace development; and administrative departments that had been relatively pragmatic on China started complaining noisily and creating hurdles.
China-US ties have seen ups and downs in the past four decades. Many Americans still cannot rationally and maturely cope with development of ties with a rising China. Some even proposed decoupling from Beijing. Trump implied the same when he advocated comprehensive strategic competition with China. However, as Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on March 8 in a press conference during the ongoing two sessions, "decoupling from China would mean decoupling from opportunities, from the future and in a sense, even from the world."
In the upcoming 2020 election season, Trump and his conservatives will face shrinking room for operations on domestic policies due to Democrats' boycott. They might continue to make headlines by smearing China, but the future of China-US ties is completely out of Washington's hands. The key to stable development of relations between the two countries lies in cooperation, and only cooperation can "Make America Great Again."
The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.