China scape­goated for ap­par­ent US ills

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HAR­VEY MOR­RIS For China Daily

Pop­ulist op­po­si­tion to glob­al­iza­tion and ex­pand­ing in­ter­na­tional trade has emerged as a key fea­ture in this year’s abra­sive US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, with China fea­tured as a handy scape­goat for the coun­try’s per­ceived eco­nomic ills.

Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump adopted the line in his first tele­vised de­bate with Demo­crat can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton on Sept 26.

“You look at what China is do­ing to our coun­try in terms of mak­ing our prod­uct,” he told more than 80 mil­lion do­mes­tic view­ers. “They’re de­valu­ing their cur­rency, and there’s no­body in our gov­ern­ment to fight them…they’re us­ing our coun­try as a piggy bank to re­build China.”

Al­though de­bate fact-check­ers chal­lenged Trump’s as­ser­tion that Bei­jing is en­gaged in cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion, that is un­likely to tem­per the im­pact of the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee’s mes­sage in states such as Ohio, in the heart of the so-called Rust Belt, where vot­ers ap­pear in­clined to blame their very real eco­nomic ills on un­fair for­eign com­pe­ti­tion.

In­dus­trial de­cline

A na­tion­wide phe­nom­e­non of stag­nat­ing wages and grow­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity is felt most keenly in a re­gion that has suf­fered the im­pact of in­dus­trial de­cline that dates back half a cen­tury, long be­fore China emerged as a global trad­ing power.

More re­cently, Ohio has been hit by a col­lapse in the price of alu­minum, one of the few bright spots on the state’s in­dus­trial hori­zon, lead­ing to lay­offs and plant clo­sures that are widely blamed on China’s ex­pand­ing pro­duc­tion and sup­posed flood­ing of the world mar­ket.

It should come as no sur­prise then that Trump has tar­geted a bat­tle­ground state that he needs to win if he is to make it to the White House.

Ohio vot­ers have picked the win­ner in all but two pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the past 120 years and they are cur­rently trend­ing to­ward the Repub­li­can by mar­gins of be­tween 1 and 5 per­cent.

Trump men­tioned Ohio no less than three times in the de­bate with Clin­ton, while the com­bined cam­paign ad­ver­tis­ing spend of the two can­di­dates in the state is the sec­ond­high­est in the na­tion.

Trump set the tone of his an­ti­trade rhetoric in a speech in Ohio at the start of Septem­ber. “We’re go­ing to stop the for­eign cheat­ing,” he told his au­di­ence in Wilm­ing­ton. “The era of eco­nomic sur­ren­der – which is what we’ve done, essen­tially – is over.”

The iso­la­tion­ist trend on glob­al­iza­tion and trade is not con­fined to the Repub­li­cans. The Demo­crat run­ner-up, Bernie San­ders, also seized on for­eign trade as a scape­goat for the coun­try’s eco­nomic ills, con­sis­tently ar­gu­ing that free trade with China had hurt Amer­i­can work­ers.

Protests against the planned Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, a trade pact be­tween the US and 11 other Pa­cific Rim coun­tries, have been a reg­u­lar fea­ture of Demo­cratic Party ral­lies, per­haps ex­plain­ing why Hil­lary Clin­ton has har­dened her op­po­si­tion to rat­i­fy­ing the deal. The TPP does not in­clude China, al­though Bei­jing has cau­tiously wel­comed the free trade deal.

Bat­tle­ground Ohio

In Ohio, the China is­sue has spilled over from the pres­i­den­tial race to the parallel bat­tle for the state’s seat in the US Sen­ate. A cam­paign ad on be­half of Demo­crat chal­lenger Ted Strickland ac­cused Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Rob Port­man of be­ing “China’s best se­na­tor.”

“Af­ter all, Port­man voted for eight dif­fer­ent trade deals. Port­man even led the fight to give the Chi­nese per­ma­nent spe­cial trad­ing sta­tus,” the ad’s nar­ra­tor in­tones.

In the midst of such po­lit­i­cal bick­er­ing over trade and China’s al­leged role in Amer­ica’s eco­nomic ills, some com­men­ta­tors have been at­tempt­ing to dis­tin­guish myth from re­al­ity.

Washington Post colum­nist Robert J. Samuelson noted ear­lier this year that while US man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs dropped by 5.8 mil­lion be­tween 1999 and 2011, the share caused by China was a bit less than one-fifth. He also noted: “With US ex­ports about 80 per­cent of im­ports, they off­set most — though not all — of trade-re­lated job loss.”

Oth­ers have noted that, while Rust Belt in­dus­tries have been hol­lowed out for decades by many fac­tors, more re­cently the re­gion’s politi­cians and of­fi­cials have been welcoming an in­flux of Chi­nese in­vest­ment that has spurred op­ti­mism about the fu­ture.

In Ohio, China’s Fuyao Glass has re­vived a re­dun­dant Gen­eral Mo­tors plant, partly thanks to a $9.7 mil­lion tax credit from the Repub­li­can-run state.

This year China has made ac­qui­si­tions worth $75 billion across all sec­tors of the US econ­omy, re­viv­ing job prospects in re­gions such as the Rust Belt. That in­cludes $4.1 billion in Ohio and neigh­bor­ing Michi­gan alone, ac­cord­ing to a research report.

China Daily re­ported just last month that a unit of alu­minum maker China Zhong­wang Hold­ings Ltd had agreed to ac­quire Ohiobased Aleris Corp in a deal val­ued at about $2.33 billion.

These deals may not be enough to dampen the po­lit­i­cal China-bash­ing that has marked this year’s elec­tion cam­paign, but they might con­vince at least some Ohio vot­ers that the ben­e­fits of world trade are not just a one-way street.

This year China has made ac­qui­si­tions worth $75 billion across all sec­tors of the US econ­omy, re­viv­ing job prospects in re­gions such as the Rust Belt.

Har­vey Mor­ris is a vet­eran for­eign af­fairs com­men­ta­tor. He contributed this ar­ti­cle to China Daily USA.

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