Wednesday was one of those days you don’t necessarily “enjoy” as someone who spends their time documenting current events as they relate to the intersection of geopolitics and macroeconomics.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy every day. I have much to be thankful for, not least of which is an audience that infallibly tunes in to “hear” whatever I have to say about markets and politics, whenever I want to say it. So, who am I to complain?
What’s tedious, though, are days when my yellow legal pad (and, yes, I actually still use those) is full of what I call “checklist” items — things that need covering, but which aren’t necessarily amenable to compelling data visualizations or conducive to satire, let alone the kind of whimsical vignettes I revel in penning.
And yet, check them off my list I must. Donald Trump’s threatened veto of the must-pass defense bill is a good example, and so are Joe Biden’s comments about US trade policy with China during the next administration.
I already know this story, and most readers likely do too, so I’ll give it what counts as short shrift, at least until he actually takes office.
In an interview with The New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman (who, I’d be remiss not to note, is a terrible technical writer, despite having sold enough books to cover the entire “flat” world), Biden said he won’t immediately roll back everything Trump put in place vis-à-vis Beijing.
“I’m not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs,” he told Friedman. “I’m not going to prejudice my options.”
The “phase one” trade deal, which Trump variously billed as the “the biggest deal anybody has ever seen,” turned out to be something a flop, although to be fair, the pandemic made it impossible to assess how successful (or not) it would have been in the absence of a public health crisis that crippled global trade and commerce.
Through the end of October, based on Chinese data, Beijing wasn’t even halfway towards fulfilling its obligations under the deal.
There are all manner of caveats, including the fact that Chinese imports of things like soybeans and aircraft were up triple-digits in October, but the bottom line is that Beijing isn’t going to hit the target for 2020. It’s all but impossible.
At the same time, the Trump administration has taken a variety of steps to ratchet up the pressure on China ahead of January 20. This week, for example, shares of CNOOC were crushed on reports it will be added to the list of blackballed Chinese military companies, bringing the total number of designated entities to nearly three-dozen.
Those kind of aggressive, last minute broadsides are arguably aimed at undermining diplomacy and making life more difficult for Biden and Kamala Harris.
In his remarks to Friedman, Biden said he wants to develop a “coherent” strategy towards China. He’ll juxtapose that with Trump’s approach, which was informed partly by justifiable concerns but also by the profoundly misguided “theories” of Peter Navarro who, over the course of four years, underwent a rather hideous transformation from abrasive, out-of-consensus economist to cartoon villain.
“The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our allies on the same page,” Biden said. “It’s going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies.”
Despite being Thomas Friedman, Thomas Friedman made a good point. “China’s leaders had their issues with Trump, but they knew that as long as he was president, the US could never galvanize a global coalition against them,” he said.
That’s true. Now, China will presumably face a more united front. It’s a simple concept (strength in numbers) but one which was summarily abandoned under Trump’s go-it-alone foreign policy.
Although one certainly assumes nations alienated over the last four years will be more than happy to welcome America back to the table, Biden is cognizant of frayed relations. “Or at least what used to be our allies,” he said, when describing all the nations that found themselves on the wrong end of a presidential tweet storm or tariff decree from 2017 forward.