Trump’s advisers may ignite trade war

By Li Haidong Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/25 13:43:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US President-elect Donald Trump appointed Peter Navarro, a strident critic of China, as head of the new National Trade Council on Wednesday. Most of the Trump's views in his accusation against China during and after the election are influenced by Navarro. Moreover, Trump's special adviser Carl Icahn and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross also take a hard line on the trade with China. The possibility of a potential trade war between China and the US after Trump takes office has come under heated discussion.

The issue needs to be considered in the backdrop of a major adjustment of the US policies toward China. At present, there is a glaring contrast between the economic prosperity and political stability in China and the economic downturn and political division in the US, which stings the US policy elites who are steadfast defenders of the US hegemony and its role as the world leader. Those elites tend to believe that the increasingly powerful China has not made the changes approved by the US and is trying to upend the international order shaped by the US.

Thus, it has now gradually become an expectation for the incoming US government to discard the long-standing engagement policy and adopt tougher or more confrontational policies toward China instead.

Against this backdrop, the trade topics closely associated with employment and welfare have become more sensitive but quite effective tools for the China hawks to create an unfriendly public opinion against China. The China-US trade disputes are no longer simply economic topics, but have strong political and strategic implications.

The manufacturing industry is not only the foundation for the US economic recovery, but also the key to solving the unemployment problem and guaranteeing social stability. The imbalance of China-US economic and trade relationship is considered by economists represented by Navarro as the critical reason for the weakening US manufacturing industry. They believe that the current close trade ties have boosted China's rapid development, whereas the hundreds of billions of dollars of US trade deficit with China has led to the current economic woes in the US. They also blame the US manufacturing companies that moved their factories to China for the high domestic unemployment rate.

In other words, the field of trade, which has long been regarded as mutually beneficial, is now considered by advisers of the incoming US government to be detrimental to their country's interests. The US maintains that a major trade policy adjustment needs to be urgently pushed forward to give China a head-on blow.

Although bilateral trade generally works by following WTO rules, the US policy elites, represented by Navarro, maintain that their country's serious inherent economic problems are caused by both China, which fails to address bilateral trade problems impartially, and the US government, which neglects the American public's demands. They keep overstating China's negative role to the American public, and thus have made full preparation for a big policy change toward China in the coming years.

Given the current policymaking atmosphere in the US as well as Trump's picks of advisers, the US has a strong desire to make a major confrontational policy adjustment in its trade with China in the future. However, it still remains uncertain if the adjustment will directly lead to a trade war.

The high interdependence of bilateral trade indicates that any form of trade war provoked by the US will ultimately hurt itself. It is probably difficult for the Trump team to figure out how much self-damage their country is able to withstand.

During the election campaign, Trump denounced the greediness of Wall Street magnates and promised to create new jobs, but, ironically, the officials he appointed after winning the election mostly came from the Wall Street.

China's economic power is no longer as it was before, and its defining power over bilateral relations in trade and all the other aspects is stronger than ever. It is impossible for China to sit back and let the US destroy the mutually beneficial situation in trade. Instead, China will firmly push forward the future bilateral ties under the concept of building a new type of major power relationship. 

In contrast to the uncertain US trade policies toward China, China's policies toward the US are clear and concise: get rid of any barriers and push forward bilateral relations in a stable and mutually beneficial direction. The evolution of China-US relationship has always been a process of moving forward and addressing various conflicts along the way. It is hoped "the China-US trade war" will only be a verbal clash, instead of a clash in real action.

The author is a professor with the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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