U.S.’s China Hawks Drive Hard-Line Policies After Trump Turns on Beijing

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WASHINGTON—Since President Trump was inaugurated, many members of his national security team have been itching to confront a China they view as the greatest threat to the U.S.

For three years their biggest roadblock, say current and former officials, has been a president who didn’t share their views and whose highest priority was negotiating a trade deal with Beijing.

“The National Security Council said, ‘Give us your wish list of ways to f— with China,’ ” said one former national security official, recalling the early days of the administration. Proposals, ranging from stronger relations with Taiwan—which Beijing considers to be a breakaway province—to halting the global advance of Chinese telecommunications companies, saw little meaningful action.

No longer. Since March, Mr. Trump has approved a head-spinning series of actions to confront China. The U.S. has dispatched aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, blocked China’s tech companies from getting advanced technology, increased arms sales to Taiwan, closed China’s Houston consulate over alleged espionage and sought to ban popular Chinese apps from the U.S. market.

Further moves are being considered, according to officials: monitoring Chinese state airlines’ employees suspected of supporting espionage in the U.S., going after alleged Chinese government-backed efforts to influence U.S. politics and business, and blacklisting more Chinese technology firms.

With tensions running high, Washington and Beijing have pushed to decouple technology and trade. But American financial firms including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are doubling down on investing in China and expanding headcount. Photo Composite: Crystal Tai

Three big changes account for the administration’s shift, according to the current and former officials in Washington:

• After a limited trade deal with Beijing was secured in January, Mr. Trump’s political calculations changed and he now sees a tougher China policy as good for his reelection campaign.

• Different and harder-line China advisers to the president came to prominence this year after the coronavirus pandemic emerged out of China.

• The Chinese government’s assertive actions in Hong Kong and elsewhere incensed administration officials and Congress.

“The Chinese Communist Party really needs to think clearly about how individuals around the world will view their behavior,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has become Mr. Trump’s leading adviser on China.

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