The enigma of Trump’s China policy

China-bashing is one of the most enduring features of Donald Trump’s policy platform–as we know from last year’s viral  “Chay-na! Chay-na! Chay-na!” montage.  On Twitter, Trump rails about China more frequently than Mexico or even ISIS.

And so it was no surprise that talk about getting tough with Beijing featured prominently when Trump unveiled his economic agenda Monday.

In a speech delivered before the Detroit Economic Club Trump declared “trade enforcement with China” to be “at the center of my plan,” and promised that by standing up to China he would “return millions of jobs into our country.”  He denounced China for manipulating its currency, called for stronger protection of US intellectual property and reiterated his call for the US to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The usual fare. But what was surprising (at least to me) is that for all the times Trump has boasted about “getting tough” with China, so far he’s said practically nothing about how he’d actually do that.

Trump’s campaign website describes his China trade policy as including four things: “bringing China back to the negotiating table” by declaring China a currency manipulator; “forcing China to uphold intellectual property laws”; reclaiming American manufacturing jobs by “putting an end to China’s illegal export subsidies”; and “lowering our corporate tax rate” to keep American jobs at home.

Well, okay. But the site doesn’t elaborate on what “bringing China back to the negotiating table” actually means, or what might be achieved by it. Nor does his campaign offer any indication of how a Trump administration would force China to play by global trade rules. Yesterday’s speech added no new details.

Conspicuously absent from the Detroit speech was any mention of slapping a 45% tariff on imports from China, an idea Trump floated in a January meeting with the editorial board of the New York Times. That proposal is anathema to business groups that have traditionally supported Republican candidates. In June, when Trump stood before a giant hunk of scrap steel outside Pittsburgh and threatened to rewrite trade deals with China and Mexico, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers immediately took to Twitter to object.

The makeup of Trump’s newly announced team of economic advisers sheds no new light on how President Trump might deal with China. The Clinton campaign dismisses this bunch as “six guys named Steve” (although, in all fairness, there are 13 of them, and only five are named Steve). But when it comes to China trade policy, their views are surprisingly diverse. Peter Navarro, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, has written a book called Death by China, a neo-mercantilist polemic blaming China almost exclusively for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. (He’s also produced a documentary based on the book.) But Heritage Foundation fellow Stephen Moore is a long-standing free trade advocate.

Even conservative commentator Lawrence Kudlow, who has endorsed Trump, worries Trump’s protectionist policies will backfire. “Does Trump aspire to be a 21st century Hoover with a modernized platform of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped send the US and the world economy into a decade-long depression?” he wrote in an essay for CNBC.

What do the Chinese make of all Trump’s bluster? It’s hard to say. Surveys and press accounts suggest Trump is surprisingly popular among ordinary Chinese.  In April, China’s finance minister,  the outspoken Lou Jiwei lambasted Trump as “irrational.” But, as Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar notes, so far Lou is the only senior Chinese official to utter Trump’s name.

Is China’s economy stabilizing?

A flurry of official indicators has given investors reason to hope growth is stabilizing in the world’s second-largest economy. On Tuesday, China reported that its producer price index fell 1.7% in June, lower than many analysts expected. Consumer prices, meanwhile, rose 1.8% in line with expectations. Consumer prices remain below the government’s 3% target, but private economists say the data suggest deflationary pressures have begun to ease in China. It’s probably too early to speak of a recovery. China’s July exports fell more than expected, dropping 4.8% over the same month last  year. The nation’s largest state-owned enterprises, as well as its local governments, remain mired in debt, and it’s not clear that leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, now gathered for their annual policy conclave in Beidaihe, have a viable plan to rein debt or speed the economy’s transition to reliance on consumer demand rather than exports and state-led investment.


Escalating tensions between China and Japan

After months of relative calm, China seems to be turning up the heat on Japan again over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Bloomberg reports China has dispatched hundreds of fishing boats and coast guard vessels into the waters around islands claimed by China (which calls them the Diaoyus) and occupied by Japan (which calls them the Senkakus). Japan has lodged a protest with Beijing over the increased incursions. The renewed tensions come just weeks ahead of a G20 summit meeting in Hangzhou, China. There has been talk that Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shintaro Abe might meet on the sidelines of that meeting.


China swimmer Sun Yang claims gold, but a purple French taunt makes his fans see red

On Tuesday, China swimming star Sun Yang won the gold medal in the men’s 200-meter freestyle swimming competition shrugging off his opening day defeat to Australian Mack Horton in the men’s 400-meter freestyle. But the victory didn’t dispel criticism from other athletes about his previous suspension from competition for using stimulants. The Australian swimming team rebuffed a formal request from China’s swim team for Horton to apologize for calling Sun a “drug cheat” earlier in the week. Meanwhile, French swimmer Camille Lacourt joined in the criticism yesterday by casting doubt on Sun’s victory in the 200-meter event. “When I see the 200-meter podium, I want to be sick,” Lacourt told global media after the race. “Sun Yang pisses purple.” Horton and Sun will havea  final showdown with the two race each other again in the men’s 1500-meter on Saturday.

South China Morning Post

What’s up with the cups?

Those of us who live and work in China can’t help but be a little amused at all the fuss the world is making over Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes turning up for their events with large circular welts on their backs and shoulders. The Chinese have used the treatment, known as “cupping” or also as “moxibustion,” for thousands of years.  According to Acupuncture Today, the technique involves burning a small spongy herb called mugwort to stimulate circulation. Whether it actually works or not is a matter of debate. Evidently, Phelps swears by it. Personally, I’ve found it a waste of time. When I see those welts, I can’t help but envision this sculpture, by Chinese artist Mu Boyan, which for many months, occupied the display window of an art gallery I pass by every day on my way to the gym. Almost enough to put you off your workout.

The New York Times


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