Former Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush discussed foreign policy during an event this week at the Council on Foreign Relations. Here are the passages related to China:
Two comments on the “pivot” concept:
[W]e need to reinvigorate the alliances that have kept us safe. [The word “Japan” does not appear in the transcript. –gw] Across the world, we see doubts about the United States’ role in the world. Do we have people’s back? Are we going to be there to invoke Article 5 of NATO, for example, or have we pivoted to Asia and really done it? These are questions that now are being asked. If you’re Prime Minister Netanyahu, you wonder whether United States—whether there’s light between the United States shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel. The world has been torn asunder. And our alliances have been tattered. And I think it’s important to reinvigorate those alliances if we’re serious about keeping a more peaceful world.
[W]e need to rebuild the military if we’re serious. Look, the president—this president is a phenomenal speaker, and from time to time he maybe gets off-script a little bit and sends signals of strength that have never been backed up. The red line is a good example of that. The pivot to Asia, and Asians are wondering where are we pivoting. First of all, the Europeans wonder, why are you pivoting away? The Asians wonder, where’s the pivot? And there’s no follow-up. The basic fact is that we have great, grandiose language that’s not backed up. And the place to back it up most particularly—not to be the world’s policeman as the president suggests from time to time, but to create a more peaceful world—is to rebuild our military in a way that is serious.
On China’s rise:
BUSH: I think we have—we have global interests. We’re America. We don’t have regional interests; we have global interests. We’re going to have to deal with the emergence of a rising China, or a China that may have economic insecurities and play out in terms of their aggressive nature in the region similar to what Russia is doing. You know, failed domestic policy yields a much more aggressive Russia overseas.
On Donald Trump’s approach:
BUSH: And his spokesman says, well, he doesn’t need to know all the details about it because you just need to know he’ll use it. (Laughter.) That’s not laughable. Someone who proposes a 45 percent tariff across the board on China, it’s not a serious proposal. It’s basically the advocacy of a global depression that will wipe out the middle class in this country and see retaliation that will create—will wreak havoc. I’m the only guy confronting this.
HIATT: So why is he gaining so much traction?
BUSH: I’m the only guy confronting this because people are anxious about their future. They’ve latched onto the large personality on the stage, but the reality is that he’s not a serious candidate. And he’ll get wiped out in the general election. This is not a political gathering, so we can move on, but the simple fact is that we have to restore a traditional role in foreign policy. And you can’t do this by, you know, rambling around, by saying Putin can take care of ISIS; China can take care of North Korea, it’s their problem; and in the same—literally in a 24-hour news cycle, propose a 45 percent tariff on the country that you’re saying it’s your responsibility to take care of North Korea.
There need to be candidates that stand up and saying there’s a better path than the path of the left, which is a path of retrenchment, and the path, you know, in an emerging part of the right that is viewing this where we don’t have a security interest in areas where we do. I think we have to recognize that these threats are real, that they have a huge impact on millions of people in our country, and that the first objective of the president of the United States needs to be to keep us safe. And you can’t keep us safe by talking trash without backing it up with serious plans.
BUSH: Well, I think we need full engagement with the Chinese across the board. I mean, it’s—for a couple of reasons. One, there are—we have a convergence of strategic interests. North Korea would certainly be one of those. Two, there could be huge misunderstandings, because my experience with China—I started traveling there in 2007 three or four times a year. And in talking to people, it became pretty clear, as a neophyte going to China, that they have no clue about us. And frankly, we have no clue about them. And that difference can create all sorts of bad outcomes.
The best example is—it seems like a small thing—in 2009, after the president’s reelection, there was the summit in Palm Springs. And Mrs. Obama didn’t go to the summit, and the glamorous first lady of China went with President Xi. And the scandal in China was that Mrs. Obama and the United States government—and the United States, therefore—were insulting China and its first couple by not having—by not being there.
And every meeting I had in Beijing started out for the first 10 minutes lambasting me about why it was, as an American, why it was that we insulted China. And I’m thinking, you know what, it could be that Mrs. Obama was worried about the science project of Malala (sic). I mean, we’re different. We don’t think the same way they do. I’m sure that they did not, you know, try to go out of their way to insult the country, 1.2 billion or 1.3 billion people of China, or the first couple when they were trying to establish better personal relationships. But that’s how you get into trouble is by not having full engagement.
So, yeah, I mean, we should be engaged to—because we have a mutual security interest as it relates to North Korea. But I think we need to deal with China from a position of strength, not weakness. And everything should be on the table, and it should be done based on mutual respect for sure. But we shouldn’t—we shouldn’t pull back when they attack us in terms of their attacks on cybersecurity, which they continue to do. We shouldn’t pull back when they are challenging the traditional maritime routes that have created prosperity for their own country and hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty, where they’re trying to challenge the legitimacy of international law. We should be—we should be forceful on this.
And we should—if we’re going to pivot to Asia, which I’m not necessarily thinking is appropriate, we ought to be clear about, you know, what our role is in the region, which brings me to another element of how you would, I think, deal with China from a position of strength, which is supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, supporting a free trading agreement. It may not be perfect. And perhaps the next president will have a chance to renegotiate elements of it, just as President Obama did with the trade agreements that his predecessor had on the table for Congress to approve. It could be enhanced and improved.
But the fact is, if we don’t pass this agreement, we’re sending a signal that we’re not serious in Asia. The rest of our allies will basically receive this as a legitimate—and I think they’ll do so legitimately—that we’re leaving. We’re abandoning the region. And that would be an unmitigated disaster. Imagine trading standards that would look more like Chinese. Imagine trading standards in Asia that would not respect intellectual property or environmental challenges or whatever it is. The U.S. trading standards are the ones that create the chance for more people to benefit from them than the Chinese standards. And we should embrace these things, because it’s in our security interest to do so.
HIATT: What’s your sense so far of the current president of China? Do you think he has a good handle on the economic reform process?
BUSH: I’ve met him several times. He’s very dynamic for sure. This command-and-control approach I just—you know, look, I’m a little “l” liberal, entrepreneurial, capitalist-loving, God-fearing American. (Laughs.) I just—I think our system is the best system. Fix our system and it will lead the world.
The command-and-control approach—while China is a very well-organized economy, you can’t manage something as big and as complex as a modern economy from—with, you know, a handful of elites. And the idea that you can intervene in markets and not expect a bad result—trying to restrict capital flows, manipulating the currency perhaps, all of these things end up having a bad result rather than a good result.
The China miracle is phenomenal. It is something to be admired. But I don’t think it’s sustainable in its current form, no matter how impressive President Xi is.
More from the candidates on China is available at ChinaFile, whose tracker led me to look up this full transcript.