March 30: A Conversation with Josh Rogin on “Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century”

March 30: A Conversation with Josh Rogin on “Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century”

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 from 10:00 AM-11:00 AM (EST)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual conversation with Josh Rogin on his new book, Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century. From the earliest days of his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump expressed his intent to transform the United States’ relationship with the People’s Republic of China. As the four years of his presidency made clear, this was not an idle aspiration. Under his command, the US fundamentally altered its approach to China, launching a controversial trade war and challenging Beijing on a global scale, all while Trump developed a complex, controversial relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Now, amidst a devastating pandemic and an ongoing economic recession, the US-China relationship has reached its lowest point in decades. In Chaos Under Heaven, Rogin provides a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s crusade against China, shedding light on the personalities and agendas that shaped it from within the White House. In the process, he depicts an administration defined by internal conflict and personal intrigue, fundamentally unprepared for the challenges of an increasingly volatile US-China rivalry.

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Tuesday, March 30 at 10 AM (EST). Questions for the author may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

The Author:

Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of the Washington Post and a political analyst with CNN. Previously, he has covered foreign policy and national security for Bloomberg ViewNewsweek, the Daily BeastForeign Policy magazine, Congressional QuarterlyFederal Computer Week magazine, and Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper. He was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the 2011 recipient of the Interaction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. Rogin holds a BA in international affairs from George Washington University and studied at Sophia University in Tokyo. He lives in Washington, DC.

Event Summary:

On March 30, 2021, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual book talk with Josh Rogin on his new book, “Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century.”

GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao began by asking Rogin to tell his story and how he became interested in the US-China relationship. Rogin explained that he did not begin his career as a China hand, but came to realize that the China challenge affects every aspect of American life, politics, and industry. Although it was delayed during the Obama Administration by naïve hopes of a political shift following China’s market liberalization, the US society has now awoken to the China challenge since a critical mass of individuals and institutions have now been affected by Chinese authoritarianism in some way.

Hsiao followed up by asking Rogin why he chose the title “Chaos Under Heaven.” Rogin answered that the main title is derived from an unverified Mao Zedong (毛澤東) quote, “everything under heaven is in utter chaos [天下大亂]; the situation is excellent,” meaning that when its rivals were dealing with chaos and unpredictability, China could thrive. The US has experienced this chaos, as different sectors are waking up to the China challenge at different times and to varying degrees. As a result, the overall US response has been quite disoriented, allowing China to make strategic gains.

Hsiao then pivoted to one of the key themes of Rogin’s book, asking the author why he disagrees with applying Graham Allison’s concept of the “Thucydides’ Trap” to the China issue. Rogin explained that he believes any “bumper sticker” description of the US-China relationship is dangerously oversimplified and incapable of explaining the intricacies of competition and cooperation. The same is true for “new Cold War” sensationalism, Rogin added. Continuing this line of questioning, Hsiao asked if it was accurate that the Trump Administration had “opened the aperture” of China policy. Rogin agreed that the overall effect of the 2016-2020 period had been a widening of the Overton window (i.e., the range of politically possible options) in discussions of China policy.

Hsiao then asked Rogin about the book’s descriptions of the factions within the Trump Administration. Specifically, Rogin explained that the “Super Hawks,” “Hardliners,” “Wall Street Clique,” and the “Axis of Adults” were well-defined ideological groups, each of which often had conflicting approaches to China policy. In discussing Trump’s personal China approach, Rogin pointed out that Trump never made a China-centric speech, instead engaging in personality-based politics. For example, Trump viewed human rights issues as a complicating factor in his dealings with China, which prevented administration officials from addressing Chinese violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
In the realm of international diplomacy, Hsiao then asked about the Trump Administration’s views on Russia. Rogin explained that Steve Bannon and other “Super Hawks” viewed Russia as a potential ally against an ascendant China, but that the accusations of Russian election meddling limited the administration’s ability to pursue a less adversarial relationship with Moscow. With regard to more traditional allies, Rogin argued that Trump often undercut reassurance missions with aggressive rhetoric, citing South Korea as an example. Taiwan, in particular, became a controversial issue for Trump. However, after COVID-19 ended Trump’s hopes of repairing the US-China relationship, military aid to Taiwan grew exponentially and several official visits to Taiwan were conducted, according to Rogin.

Finally, Hsiao posed audience questions to Rogin. In his answers, Rogin described the near-total opacity of the CCP Politburo, but nevertheless remained optimistic about the ability to read China’s strategic intentions through Xi Jinping’s (習近平) writings and thoughts. He argued that Xi wants a world “that is safe for autocracy,” and also intends to export some elements of Beijing’s governance model to China’s authoritarian allies. In terms of diplomacy, Rogin argued that the Anchorage meeting between Director of CCP’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicates that China’s message has not changed since the early Trump Administration. However, the relationship has deteriorated and the tone of rhetoric has become harsher.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2021 Intern Gavin Stark.

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