China trade

Trump ‘More Receptive’ To Going ‘Well Beyond Trade’ In China Fight: Report

"First and foremost as a national security threat".

Adding to the still palpable sense of of angst around Sino-US relations on another “tariff day”, as it were, is a somewhat rambling new piece from Axios, which suggests we’ve crossed the Rubicon – that economic and even military tension between Washington and Beijing are set to be the “new normal”.

“Senior officials tell me they are concerned about Beijing’s treatment of activists in Hong Kong and, increasingly, fear overreach that could also target Taiwan”, Jonathan Swan writes, on the way to positing that while Trump is still obsessed with preventing (or at least forestalling) China’s meteoric economic rise, recent affronts including Beijing’s failure to stop the flow of illegal fentanyl into the US and foot-dragging on what the White House still insists was a promise to buy large quantities of US farm goods, have made the president “more receptive… to his advisers’ hawkish stances that go well beyond trade”.

Earlier this year, Mike Pence was scheduled to decry China’s human rights record in an aggressive foreign policy speech which was delayed twice and then ultimately canceled in the interest of not torpedoing the ceasefire which was eventually struck in Osaka. That speech would have laid the groundwork for more punitive measures against Hikvision and other companies associated with Beijing’s surveillance state.

Read more: Mike Pence’s Big China Speech Postponed ‘Indefinitely’ (Crocodile Tears)

The administration has demonstrated a propensity to purposefully conflate national security, human rights and trade policy this year in the service of advancing a hodgepodge of agenda items including a trade deal with China and a border crackdown facilitated by the Mexican government. Some have warned that’s a Pandora’s box.

“Many of the president’s top advisers view China first and foremost as a national security threat rather than as an economic partner”, Swan goes on to say, citing multiple conversations with officials. Axios calls this “the new normal” and warns it’s set to “affect huge parts of American life, from the cost of many consumer goods, to the nature of this country’s relationship with the government of Taiwan”.

Beijing has variously warned Washington about involving itself in the Hong Kong protests, and Trump seems genuinely confused about how to reconcile an opportunity to take the moral high ground while simultaneously securing leverage in the trade war with his affinity for authoritarian government and disdain for dissent. That cognitive dissonance has manifested itself in conflicting messages when it comes to the Hong Kong protests, which escalated to fire bombs and water cannons over the weekend.

There are two key points in Swan’s reporting which, again, is more “lay of the land” than it is “breaking news”.

The first is this bit:

The big open question remains whether Trump’s anger with China… will ever grow to such a point that he wants to move in a tougher direction on national security and human rights. If he gets to that point, his advisers will have plenty of hawkish policy ideas waiting for his green light.

The administration was moving in that direction back in May, but a desire to get the trade talks back on track after an abysmal month for US stocks ultimately meant that cooler heads prevailed.

The second potentially noteworthy bit comes when Swan says that “sources” briefed on prospective September trade negotiations told him the two sides aren’t even discussing what Swan calls “the thorniest trade issues that caused the impasse in the first place”. In other words, talks on IP theft, forced tech transfer and subsidies are still stalled.

Swan’s sources indicated that as things currently stand, “the most optimistic scenario for those favoring a deal is that the two sides can generate enough goodwill in the next couple of weeks that a Chinese delegation, led by Liu He, could visit Washington at the end of September”.

Recall that both Trump and Chinese officials were keen to convey a cautiously optimistic tone on the prospects for those talks last week. The latest escalations cast considerable doubt on whether the talks would ultimately go forward, so the fact that they aren’t set in stone isn’t exactly “news”, but Swan explicitly says that while “senior administration officials have discussed such a trip, nothing is locked in”.

This is one of those times when what was implicit was probably better left as such, rather than being made explicit. That is, we knew there was no set date for the September talks, but Axios’s Sunday reporting makes it sound as though face-to-face talks this month are a kind of “best case scenario” as opposed to something that both sides are intent on making happen barring significant further escalations.

In any event, this isn’t exactly the kind of “sources” story that inspires much confidence coming off a weekend that brought more violent protests in Hong Kong, a somewhat disappointing manufacturing PMI out of Beijing and, of course, the imposition of new tariffs.


10 comments on “Trump ‘More Receptive’ To Going ‘Well Beyond Trade’ In China Fight: Report

  1. I have always held the view that this is US policy and not trump’s. Call it policy of deep state, the bureaucracy, the pentagon, or whatever and whoever sets these policies. It doesn’t mean that affirming this let’s trumpolini off the hook, far from it. What it means is that the policy makers, needed someone crazy enough to undertake such policies, and stupid enough not to realize the power that the office of the President has and use it. Clinton’s loss was as a result of these forces as well. Again it doesn’t mean that Hillary did not do some damage to herself, what it means is that there was an organized effort to negatively portray Hillary and give more air time and more strength to trump. The US faces two mainly economic threats to it’s unipolar rule that could later morph into some sort of super power geo political threat. Europe and China. The attacks on Europe started since Obama’s last years in office, with Brexit Greece Italy, and Eastern Europe, trumpolini is merely going crazy and advancing these policies by decades. It will all be over in one of the two ways, either the US wins and Europe and China yields, or the US accepts a new multipolar world order. So if one where to think in this way then it means that tariffs are only the beginning, not only will tariffs be extended into Europe, but as the article suggests it will morph into military “skirmishes” sanctions as well, through proxy or even directly.

    • Europe…. really? They can’t even agree on a customs border, let alone a coordinated attack against a global superpower

      • They can’t agree with whom on a custom’s border, with England? Europe is a superpower like it or not. It’s a economic superpower and it’s a competitor to the US in the world market. Remember trump when he mentioned the EU as America’s number one enemy. It wasn’t just a gaffe, the idiot had probably heard what he was told by advisors and others on the threat the EU poses to the unipolar world order, and he just couldn’t shut up, he had to tell somebody so he looks smart. Europe’ beating heart is Germany, it could have been England and by extension it would have been “American” but it’s German, and Germany has consolidated it’s economic control over most of Europe through the EU, leaving England to do what it did, get out and try and smash something along the way. The EU not only threatens US dominance in the world markets, but also the very status the US has enjoyed since WW2, because it is the only continent capable of providing an alternative to the US in every single field. Not being able to agree with England doesn’t say anything on the EU’s strength and power.

        • The EU without the U.K. is greatly diminished. As leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbin said of a ‘hard Brexit’ Trump and large American enterprises are the winner.

    • Harvey Cotton

      I think it is a fallacy to suggest that States are geographic entities that are bound by geopolitical laws to make pre-deterministic decisions akin to moving pieces on a gameboard. States are composed of people, and personnel make policy. There may be bureaucratic inertia, there may be groupthink in elite levels of power, there may be institutional memory at foreign policy making bodies, but countries are nonetheless ruled by fallable, mortal politicians making day-to-day, opportunistic decisions – and the more powerful the country, the more policy options that country has.

      • I agree Harvey, states are not geographical locations with predetermined decisions, and yes those geo political decisions don’t have to be on some grandiose fifty year planing run by some dictator or some obscure group that control all outcomes, they can be as simple as business interests that combine to force a political decision by any means necessary (in the case of Iraq and others by military force even). Since WWII the US has been losing market share to Europe and Asia (first Japan and now China), this loss is bound to be felt in the US at a business level, and it is those interests that set policy in the west ie, in Capitalist Democracies. The globalization of the 80’s was not an accident, the opening of new markets for American goods and capital that could no longer compete with German and Japanese goods, was a well thought out policy, yes it could have failed and in some instances it has failed, but it also prolonged the life of American business, and by extension American dominance. So those policies yes they are from fallible mortals but they don’t have to be perfect to be implemented.

  2. Stein’s Law

    Stein propounded Stein’s Law, which he expressed in 1976 as, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”[5][6] Stein observed this logic in analyzing economic trends (such as rising U.S. Federal debt in proportion to GDP, or increasing international balance of payments deficits, in his analysis): if such a process is limited by external factors, there is no urgency for government intervention to stop it, much less to make it stop immediately; it will stop of its own accord.[7] A paraphrase (not attributed to Stein) is: “Trends that can’t continue, won’t.”

  3. But where does Trump’s desire to see the stock market go up and get re-elected fit into this?

    Even one as – well, it’s not accurate to say there are no words to describe him, rather that is too late at night to start winnowing all the possible words into a sentence that doesn’t run on and on as this one is already doing – anyway, even Trump realizes that more trade conflict -> more consumer and investor anxiety -> weaker economy and stock market -> greater chance of defeat in Nov 2020.

    And we’ve seen how short-lived an advisor can be, when Trump starts to tire of either the advice, advisor, or results. Notice that John Bolton, once so influential, has been sidelined?

    So if Trump is going to escalate the US-China conflict well beyond trade, it must mean one or more of:

    He thinks the new sort of war is good and easy (and quick) to win.
    He thinks Americans will rally ’round the flag.
    He thinks he will get re-elected no matter how unpopular he is (cue voting machine hack theories).
    He doesn’t care if he’s re-elected because being President isn’t fun and he’s managed to make tons of money in 3 years (and has some plan to stay out of court/jail).
    He’s following orders from Putin (the Russian asset theory).
    He’s mentally deteriorated.

    1, 2, 4 seem implausible to me. 3 is unlikely – not that voting integrity hasn’t been compromised, but that he could be so confident as to not care about tanking his popularity in an election year. 5 is interesting but while I think Putin has some “influence” on Trump, if Trump were a full-on asset seems he’d be doing more things directly favorable to Russia. 6 is tempting, but usually too easy of an explanation.

    • He finally realized that the hillbillies & hillsallies that voted for him cannot even spell 401(k). They just want guns

    • floating souls

      Sadly, the Democrats have failed to produce anyone of substance that might have a slim chance of winning, thus trump with a very united base stands a far better chance to go back in there for round two — which is a God awful thought. The Democrats handed over the election a year ago and that’s still mind blowing!!!!

Speak On It

Skip to toolbar