The dispute over Hauwei and its executive, Meng Wanzhou, involving the United States and Canada on the one side and China on the other, is dangerous for the world.
The institutions that have preserved the greater peace since 1945 are under threat, even as one crisis piles onto another. Events are cascading, and because Donald Trump is the U.S. President, no one can know how this ends.
In some ways, the infrastructure of the Western alliance has not been this weak since the early 1950s. Back then, although the United Nations confronted Chinese troops in Korea, the greater strategic threat was the Soviet Union. Much of Europe was either devastated or under construction, while the French and British Empires were collapsing
Compounding the danger, the United States government was tearing itself apart, as fanatical right-wingers led by Senator Joseph McCarthy sought to purge the land of mostly imaginary Soviet spies.
Today, the imaginary threat is caravans of Latinos seeking to breach the U.S.-Mexico border and inundate America with drug dealers and rapists. Only a wall can stop them!
In truth, the number of people apprehended for crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally fell from 1.7 million in 2000 to just over 360,000 in fiscal 2018, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
But even as Mr. Trump rages, he degrades the ability of the federal government to do its job. He associates with the worst people, ignores the best advice and he shut down the government in a fit of pique. He is his own McCarthy.
Even as the President undermines his government, he stokes tensions with China through tariffs and threats of an all-out trade war. And now, the U.S. Justice Department has criminally charged Huawei with stealing trade secrets and violating sanctions against Iran.
That many irons in the fire would test the abilities of the ablest president. For Mr. Trump ...
The Chinese are not blameless – far from it. Fair-minded observers have concluded that the Middle Kingdom has manipulated trading rules to its advantage, while the Justice Department’s allegations appear on their face to be both serious and credible.
Nonetheless, the Chinese are not seeking to launch a new Cold War. That’s America’s doing.
In the past, Canadian and European leaders might have worked to lower tensions on both sides, while affirming their commitment to the Western alliance. But the United States and NATO are estranged under this President, even as Britain lurches toward Brexit.
And the Trudeau government, caught in the crossfire between the United States and China, always seems to be one day late in understanding what’s going on and what might happen next.
Is there any way out? Yes, absolutely. First of all, let’s not forget, America survived McCarthyism. Mr. Trump appears to be weakening, at least on the domestic side. We can’t know there will be a new president in two years better able to represent the interests of the United States before the world, but we can hope.
China appears anxious to avoid confrontation. Sensible voices in the United States realize that no one wins when the world’s two largest economies go to trade war with each other. The odds are still good that both sides will find a way to tone things down.
And as Paul Evans, a specialist in Asian affairs at the University of British Columbia, pointed out in a conversation, China does not seek global hegemonic power in the way that both the Americans and Russians sought it in the last century.
The Cold War was a contest between ideologies – communism and capitalism, and the cultures and value systems each produced. McDonald’s won.
But the government in Beijing does not seek to impose its ideology and Chinese culture on the world. It demands that its borders be respected, although this is an issue because it has a very expansive definition of where those borders are. But China is not evangelical. It does not want to convert us.
On that basis, it should be possible for East and West to live with each other. The controversy over Huawei and the detention of Ms. Meng and the retaliatory detentions and trade imbalances and tariff threats should all be manageable.
The question is whether Mr. Trump in Washington and Mr. Trudeau in Ottawa are up to their respective jobs.