In a single tweet on 5 April, Trump gave a double whammy: against China, reminding everyone that he’s fighting China on trade, and against Amazon’s “chief lobbyist”, the hated “Fake News Washington Post”:
The Fake News Washington Post, Amazon’s “chief lobbyist,” has another (of many) phony headlines, “Trump Defiant As China Adds Trade Penalties.” WRONG! Should read, “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.” Typically bad reporting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 5, 2018
Not bad for a single tweet. To anyone wondering why the Washington Post’s headline is characterized as “phony” when the news about the levying of trade penalties is real enough, the answer is fairly simple. Trump has recently engaged in an unprecedented flurry of tweets against Amazon, “ranting obsessively about it”. To the point where one is justified in wondering whether he has a personal grudge against Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post.
Maybe he does, but the truth is that the Washington Post has been very good at unearthing uncomfortable news about him. For example, they were the ones who discovered he had given highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the course of a visit to the White House back in May 2017.
Trade War or Trade Talks?
That’s the real question. Are Trump’s threats of trade penalties the opening salvo of a coming trade war? Or, more simply, trade talks?
Trump has just ordered the US Trade Representative to consider coming up with levies on $100 billion more of Chinese goods (that immediately sent US stock futures tumbling). This came on top of a Chinese announcement on Wednesday that China would levy a 25 percent tariff on about $50 billion of US goods (including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft). But the US had started it all, issuing on Tuesday a list of tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products.
Tit for tat – and a clever tit from China since, with tariffs on soybeans and automobiles, it aims directly at the heart of Trump’s base, farming and manufacturing Middle America.
Before we get excited about this, we need to keep in mind two things:
- It will probably take 60 days before any trade penalties become operative because of a required public comment and consultation period;
- US and Chinese officials are in contact, and according to Reuters, it looks like trade talks may be in the offing.
Is Trump totally off base in trying to tackle China? No, not really. He is right about the rising danger from Chinese political and economic might, look at this highly informative video:
Where Trump is wrong though, is in trying to tackle China alone. It would be far more effective to do it together with America’s European allies who are equally worried about China.
UPDATE: A few hours after I wrote this, Trump tweeted this:
China, which is a great economic power, is considered a Developing Nation within the World Trade Organization. They therefore get tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S. Does anybody think this is fair. We were badly represented. The WTO is unfair to U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 6, 2018
Honestly, this is so full of misinterpretation of facts and misunderstanding, I don’t know where to start. Trump (as usual) shows his absolute ignorance about how the international system evolved since World War II: The US was the one pushing China to enter WTO (with support from its European allies) – it was the only way to get China to join the concert of nations, and hence come under at least minimal surveillance.
When it entered, over 15 years ago, China was indeed a developing nation. So it was correct to classify it this way. Now it’s no longer so: Indeed, it’s getting very close to beating America at its own game. So the right move is to get WTO to recognize this! And the wrong move is to try and demolish WTO. It’s not the international system (and WTO) that will disappear if Trump does this, it’s America that will get isolated, thanks to Trump’s policies.
Is that what the American people really want? To be relegated to the back of the class? I doubt it.
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