Following the recent collapse of trade talks between the United States and China, leading to an escalation of their ongoing dispute, Beijing again lashed out against America and its president, Donald Trump.
As reported by CNN and other international outlets, Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily – two of the Communist-ruled country’s chief propaganda machines – published an editorial arguing that the US was fighting for “greed and arrogance” while China only fought to defend “its legitimate rights and interests.”
In particular, that commentary, which contained strong and nationalistic language, said: “The trade war in the United States is the creation of one person and his administration who have swept along the entire population of the country. Whereas the entire country and all the people of China are being threatened. For us, this is a real ‘people’s war’.”
Though it didn’t mention Trump by name, the editorial was a direct rebuke of, and a personal attack on, the 72-year-old president.
In August last year, when Trump threatened to impose a 25% tariff increase on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, the People’s Daily launched a fierce and personal attack on him, accusing the businessman-turned president of starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation.”
Certainly, America’s 45th president is assuming a very tough posture toward China – in both rhetoric and policy. Of America’s recent presidents, he is, without doubt, the most critical of China’s practices and policies in trade matters.
As a presidential candidate, he accused China of “raping” America. After his election, for the first few months in the White House, he sought to flirt with China and its paramount leader, President Xi Jinping, with the aim of persuading Beijing to change its behavior. Since this failed, he has consistently maintained a hardline posture vis-à-vis the Asian behemoth. To this point, the US has followed through on all of his tariff threats against China.
What’s notable is that, though he is a divisive figure and many of his domestic and international policies are controversial, his anti-China stance has broad bipartisan support. Some senior American politicians have even accused him of not being tough enough against China.
In March last year, when Trump signed a “presidential memorandum targeting China’s economic aggression,” Nancy Pelosi, then-House minority leader, issued a statement saying: “The United States must take strong, smart and strategic action against China’s brazenly unfair trade policies.” It added: “Yet, today’s announcement is merely a start, and the Trump administration must do much more to fight for American workers and products.”
That’s why the statement by Pelosi, who is now the speaker of the US House of Representatives, while praising the “report of the USTR [US Trade Representative] investigation on China’s intellectual property theft” as “a good first step,” made clear that “far more is needed to confront the full range of China’s bad behavior.”
Other top lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, businesses leaders and foreign policy experts likewise expressed their strong support for Trump’s move against China.
For instance, Schumer lauded him for proposing “a plan designed to punish China for its most flagrant trade abuses” and expressed his delight that the Trump administration “is taking strong action to get a better deal on China” because he had “called for such action for years and been disappointed by the inactions of both presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama.”
Three months later, when Trump announced a 25% tariff on $50 billion of goods, he said: “The president’s actions on China are on the money. China is our real trade enemy, and their theft of intellectual property and their refusal to let our companies compete fairly threatens millions of future American jobs.”
In February this year, when the Trump administration was reportedly nearing a trade deal with China, Schumer warned the Republican president not to settle for a weak deal with Beijing, saying “Shame on him if he does.” Addressing Trump directly, the New York senator cautioned: “It would be a momentous failure if you relent now and don’t receive meaningful, enforceable and verifiable commitments on structural reforms to China’s unfair trade policy.” The top Democrat in the US Senate also said the US “business community does not want our president to capitulate.”
Earlier this month, when Trump threatened to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10% to 25%, the top Democrat in the US Senate again urged the president to “hang tough on China,” stating: “Strength is the only way to win with China.”
All this shows that while it may be true that Trump’s tariff war against China “is the creation of one person [i.e. Trump] and his administration,” it’s undeniable that the president’s strong criticisms of – and his pushback against – the Asian power is widely supported by the American public, businesses and politicians across the political spectrum.
Other international observers and leaders, including the leaders of Germany and France – three key allies of the US – are likewise concerned about China’s unfair trade practices.
On March 22, 2018 – the exact day Trump signed the memorandum targeting Beijing’s “economic aggression” – the UK-based Financial Times editorialized: “China routinely steals intellectual property on a vast scale, illegally hacking foreign companies. It also massively distorts its own economy with subsidies and regulation, building up overcapacity in steel and other manufacturing.”
By seeking to engage and accommodate China and bring it into the US-led international system since the early 1970s, American policy-makers had hoped that the communist country could liberalize not only economically but also politically and become a responsible global citizen
Against this backdrop, it’s incorrect, and even unwise, for Beijing to insist that Washington’s tariff war against China is a Trump invention or policy. Such a view has prevented Chinese policymakers from comprehending the width and depth of the resentment toward China in the US and, consequently, taking steps to appease such an anti-China sentiment.
What’s more, many other radical changes and policies in China since President Xi came to power, especially since late 2017 and early 2018, have compounded America’s frustration and apprehension and provoked retaliation.
Justified or not, by seeking to engage and accommodate China and bring it into the US-led international system since the early 1970s, American policy-makers had hoped that the communist country could liberalize not only economically but also politically and become a responsible global citizen. But now they have realized that such hopes have certainly faded, if not completely dashed.
All this was underlined in America’s 2017 National Security Strategy (Trump’s first), which labeled China as a revisionist authoritarian power.
“For decades, US policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China,” the strategy said.
But, contrary to Washington’s hopes, China now wants “to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests” and “seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.” According to the document, the Asian behemoth has also “expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others… gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance” and “is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own.”
In remarks in February this year, Richard Hass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, observed that American “perceptions of China have shifted markedly,” stating that he was “hard-pressed to think of another consensus in American foreign policy that’s moved as far and as fast as the US consensus on China.”
He pointed out that “there’s a degree of disillusionment” in the American foreign policy establishment “that is wide and deep” because people “have grown weary of” not just Chinese trade practices, such as technology theft, but also “of what’s going inside China,” such as the abolition of the presidential term limits by Xi as well as Beijing’s behavior in geopolitical issues, such as the South China Sea.
Indeed, perhaps with some justifications, Washington’s charges against China are legitimate. Under Xi’s watch, the world’s largest authoritarian country has become regressive and oppressive at home and assertive and aggressive abroad.
As for Trump, while he is right to adopt a tough trade posture toward China, he is wrong – and has manifestly proved unable – to go it alone. As pointed out by Xinhua in a commentary on Sunday, it is no longer “a country that struggled to make a single tractor,” but “a manufacturing heavyweight in the world” and, indeed, the world’s second-largest economy, with “a 1.4 billion population and a 400-million middle-income group.”
To win its trade war against such a formidable power, as previously maintained, the US needs alliances.
Of late, while supporting Trump’s hawkish China posture, a number of American lawmakers have voiced their concerns about his decision to wage a multi-front tariff war (including against America’s allies, such as the European Union and Canada). Schumer said last week: “I would focus everything on China. And get the Europeans, Canadians and Mexicans to be on our side and focus on China. Because they are the great danger.”