May 20, 2020 - World

Josh Hawley crafts the case against China

Hawley. Photo: Carlos Barria-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) will lambast China on Wednesday, arguing on the Senate floor that the existing international order must be ripped up to avert a future in which America takes “second place to the imperialists in Beijing.”

Why it matters: Hawley’s star has risen fast, and the 40-year-old freshman senator is often discussed as a 2024 presidential prospect. He’s betting that Trump’s populist nationalism and hawkishness on China aren’t passing phenomena, but the future of the Republican Party.

In the speech, which was shared with Axios ahead of delivery, Hawley will articulate his own vision of America First.

Key lines:

  • “The international order as we have known it for thirty years is breaking. Now imperialist China seeks to remake the world in its own image, and to bend the global economy to its own will.”
  • “Are we in this nation willing to witness the slow destruction of the free world? Are we willing to watch our own way of life, our own liberties and livelihoods, grow dependent on the policy of Beijing?”
  • “Now we must recognize that the economic system designed by Western policy makers at the end of the Cold War does not serve our purposes in this new era."

Between the lines: Hawley is one of a few prominent Republicans — among them Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — building intellectual architecture around the fire and fury of Trump’s foreign policy. 

But Hawley has gone further than even Trump on trade, calling for the U.S. to withdraw from the World Trade Organization and introducing a joint resolution this month to make that happen.

  • Hawley’s proposal has little chance of passage, and an assortment of trade experts and pro-business groups have warned of dire economic consequences if it did.
  • But China hawks in Washington increasingly view Beijing’s admission into the organization in 2001 as the original sin of America's China policy.
  • Hawley argues in the speech that America cannot be prosperous and secure in a world where China's economy and influence come to dwarf America’s thanks to imbalanced trading relationships.

The bottom line: Beyond the WTO proposal, Hawley's speech is more ideology than policy. But this sort of rhetoric is likely to reverberate, at least among Republicans, even after Trump leaves office.

Go deeper: The "new Cold War" started in Beijing

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