China v America; A new kind of cold war

 

 

 

 

Source: The Economist magazine.

FIGHTING OVER trade is not the half of it. The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration. The two superpowers used to seek a win-win world. Today winning seems to involve the other lot’s defeat—a collapse that permanently subordinates China to the American order; or a humbled America that retreats from the western Pacific. It is a new kind of cold war that could leave no winners at all.

As our special report in this week’s issue explains, superpower relations have soured. America complains that China is cheating its way to the top by stealing technology, and that by muscling into the South China Sea and bullying democracies like Canada and Sweden it is becoming a threat to global peace. China is caught between the dream of regaining its rightful place in Asia and the fear that tired, jealous America will block its rise because it cannot accept its own decline.

The temptation is to shut China out, as America successfully shut out the Soviet Union—not just Huawei, which supplies 5G telecoms kit and was this week blocked by a pair of orders, but almost all Chinese technology. Yet, with China, that risks bringing about the very ruin policymakers are seeking to avoid. Global supply chains can be made to bypass China, but only at huge cost. In nominal terms Soviet-American trade in the late 1980s was $2bn a year; trade between America and China is now $2bn a day. In crucial technologies such as chipmaking and 5G, it is hard to say where commerce ends and national security begins. The economies of America’s allies in Asia and Europe depend on trade with China. Only an unambiguous threat could persuade them to cut their links with it.

It would be just as unwise for America to sit back. No law of physics says that quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies must be cracked by scientists who are free to vote. Even if dictatorships tend to be more brittle than democracies, President Xi Jinping has reasserted party control and begun to project Chinese power around the world. Partly because of this, one of the very few beliefs which unite Republicans and Democrats is that America must act against China. But how?

For a start America needs to stop undermining its own strengths and build on them instead. Given that migrants are vital to innovation, the Trump administration’s hurdles to legal immigration are self-defeating. So are its frequent denigration of any science that does not suit its agenda and its attempts to cut science funding (reversed by Congress, fortunately).

Another of those strengths lies in America’s alliances and the institutions and norms it set up after the second world war. Team Trump has rubbished norms instead of buttressing institutions and attacked the European Union and Japan over trade rather than working with them to press China to change. American hard power in Asia reassures its allies, but President Donald Trump tends to ignore how soft power cements alliances, too. Rather than cast doubt on the rule of law at home and bargain over the extradition of a Huawei executive from Canada, he should be pointing to the surveillance state China has erected against the Uighur minority in the western province of Xinjiang.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine site here.

‘Brutal, amoral, ruthless, cheating’: how Trump’s new trade tsar sees China

An image from Peter Navarro’s 2012 documentary Death by China Photograph: Netflix

An image from Peter Navarro’s 2012 documentary Death by China Photograph: Netflix

The Chinese government is a despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power that reigns over the world’s leading cancer factory, its most prolific propaganda mill and the biggest police state and prison on the face of the earth.

That is the view of Peter Navarro, the man chosen by Donald Trump to lead a new presidential office for US trade and industrial policy, a move likely to add to Beijing’s anxieties over the billionaire’s plans for US-China relations.

China’s rulers initially appeared to embrace the possibility that improved ties with Washington could be negotiated with the deal-making US president-elect.

But that enthusiasm has dimmed after Trump angered Beijing with a succession of controversial interventions on sensitive issues including Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The appointment of Navarro, a University of California, Irvine business professor, to run the White House’s newly created national trade council, represents a further blow to those hopes.

Navarro has penned a number of vociferously anti-China tomes including Death by China and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World.

In The Coming China Wars – a 2006 book that Trump has called one of his favourite on China – Navarro portrays the Asian country as a nightmarish realm where “the raw stench of a gut-wrenching, sweat-stained fear” hangs in the air and myopic, venal and incompetent Communist party officials rule the roost.

Speaking shortly before Navarro’s appointment was confirmed, Andrew Nathan, a China expert at Columbia University, said Trump’s plans for relations with Beijing remained an enigma despite the presence of several prominent China hawks in his camp.

“Trump has shown two sides to his personality in dealing with everybody. One is: ‘Let’s make a deal, we are deal-makers.’ And the other one is: ‘You hurt my feelings and I’m going to bomb the shit out of you because I never lose – I always win’,” said the political scientist.

“I don’t know whether he is setting up China for a deal. In fact, I don’t know if he is that deliberate or whether his mood just changes from time-to-time depending on how the other side treats him.”

Christopher Balding, a Peking University finance professor, said that for all Navarro’s “alarmist” and “inflammatory” musings on China, he was unlikely to be able to follow through on his most radical beliefs once in government.

“I think Navarro is going to quickly realise the constraints that he is under,” he said.

“They come as professors, they come as businessmen and they get into office as the secretary-of-whatever and they quickly realise … that they cannot just implement their pet idea or their classroom theory,” Balding said, predicting there would be “strong push-back” from the US business community were hefty tariffs to be imposed on imports from China.

Li Yonghui, the head of the school of international relations at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said Navarro’s rise was consistent with Trump’s hawkish thoughts on China and would leave Beijing “a little worried” even if he still believed a radical shake-up of US-China relations was unlikely.

“We should stay vigilant. We have to be prepared,” the academic said. “Trump will certainly place unprecedented pressure on China.”

Asked for Beijing’s reaction to Trump’s hire, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry replied only that it was closely monitoring the transition and possible policy directions.

“As two superpowers, China and the US have extensive common interests,” Hua Chunying told reporters. “Cooperation is the only correct choice.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.