“Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking?”, Donald Trump mused, on July 25, 2018, just hours before a key meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, who had traveled to Washington in hopes of talking the US president out of ratcheting up trade tensions with Europe.
“Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off?”, Trump asked nobody in particular, before shrieking “No weakness!” into the digital void.
“No weakness!”, indeed. Fast forward 10 months and trade tensions between the US and the rest of the world are, if anything, worse than they were when Juncker managed to temporarily distract Trump with what sources said was a series of colorful flash cards.
On Tuesday, officials who spoke to Bloomberg confirmed that Trump had always planned to use Huawei as leverage in the trade talks in the event negotiations broke down. That, despite US negotiators’ contention that national security issues were separate from commerce concerns. As it turns out, that was a lie. Trump arguably only cares about national security to the extent he can use it as an excuse to extract concessions and secure ego-boosting geopolitical “wins”.
China has seen enough out of Trump for one lifetime and heard enough out of him for several more. The wagons are circled and Xi is preparing the populace for a protracted economic war.
Trump, meanwhile, attempted to ameliorate concerns about the ripple effect of the Huawei ban by granting the company a temporary, partial reprieve. That calmed markets (hard-hit semis rallied) on Tuesday, but the situation may be about to take another turn for the worst, because on Tuesday evening, the New York Times reported that Trump may take aim at Hikvision, a giant manufacturer of video surveillance products that the Times describes as “central to China’s ambitions to be the top global exporter of surveillance systems.”
According to people familiar with the situation, the administration would use the same approach as that deployed last week against Huawei. That is, the company would effectively be cut off from American technology by the Commerce Department, which is mulling a move to require US companies to secure government approval to sell components to Hikvision.
A decision is expected within “weeks”.
If Trump goes ahead, it will be carried out under the guise of concern for human rights.
“Adding to [national security] concerns are the global human rights implications of China’s extensive surveillance industry, which it increasingly uses to keep tabs on its own citizens”, the Times writes. “The Chinese have used surveillance technology, including facial recognition systems and closed-circuit television cameras, to target the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, who have accused the Chinese government of discriminating against their culture and religion.”
Donald Trump, savior of the Uighurs, apparently.
As the Times goes on to note, the Trump administration has generally shied away from taking any decisive action when it comes to China’s repressive stance toward the Uighurs because doing so might have jeopardized a trade deal. (Sometimes, “the art of the deal” means ignoring systematic human rights abuses – it’s in the book.)
Likely of greater concern to the US are China’s efforts to sell the technology to other governments. The Times cites Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and the UAE as examples. Mike Pompeo will probably contend that surveillance systems are another example of Beijing attempting to conduct international espionage via tech infrastructure.
It goes without saying that this move would infuriate Beijing and cast still further doubt on the prospects for a trade truce.
As for whether Trump really cares about the Uighurs, former State Department official Jessica Batke sounds skeptical. “The ongoing trade war perhaps undercuts the perception that this is coming from a place of purely human rights concerns”, she told the Times.
Correct. Trump has found another target in Hikvision and he’s going to exploit it. “No weakness!”, after all.
But “human rights” will make for great press.