Trump naive to think trade war won't harm US

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM - By Zhang Tengjun

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­port­edly sig­naled on Au­gust 25 he might re­gret launching a trade war against China. It was the first time he had made such re­marks as wide­spread de­bate en­sued over whether or not he would make pol­icy ad­just­ments. Hours later, the White House de­nied all spec­u­la­tions, claim­ing that Trump was “greatly mis­in­ter­preted,” in an at­tempt to pre­vent more dam­age from the pres­i­dent's words.

In de­fense of the trade war, South Carolina Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lindsey Gra­ham said in late Au­gust that “the Democrats for years have been claim­ing that China should be stood up to. Now Trump is and we just got to ac­cept the pain that comes with stand­ing up to China.” It seems that Repub­li­cans and Democrats have re­vealed a con­flu­ence in at­ti­tude to­ward trade war with China. But opin­ions dif­fer over what does it re­ally mean.

Since the trade war against China started, both sides have raised tar­iffs against each other. Trump's es­ca­lat­ing threats against China were out of his com­pre­hen­sion of do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus, which holds that Us-china trade ties are un­fair and need to be changed. Repub­li­cans sup­port Trump to es­ca­late pres­sure to­ward China. Al­though Democrats ver­bally op­pose the tar­iffs, they si­mul­ta­ne­ously hope Trump's moves could sup­press China's rise, forc­ing China to make con­ces­sions. Both par­ties have their po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions on the trade war is­sue. Now, the sit­u­a­tion has not gen­er­ated enough mo­ti­va­tion for them to change their po­si­tions, which is

one rea­son why Trump is able to con­tin­u­ously ratchet up tar­iffs on Chi­nese goods.

How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion will be dif­fer­ent with the trade war caus­ing ir­re­versible dam­age to the US. Stock mar­ket plum­met has shaken mar­ket con­fi­dence. If the US econ­omy and em­ploy­ment rate are im­pacted, which is in­evitable, op­po­si­tion to the trade war will grow stronger, driv­ing a big wedge be­tween the two par­ties and even di­vid­ing Repub­li­cans. This will be Trump's hard­est chal­lenge.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves the trade war will ben­e­fit the US in the long run, al­though the coun­try will suf­fer short-term pains. With this logic, Trump has lam­basted China for caus­ing US do­mes­tic economic prob­lems, say­ing the trade war would bring the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try back to the US. At the same time, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has used gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to pacify those in­dus­tries which have been poorly in­flu­enced by the trade war.

Dur­ing the 2018 midterm elec­tions, Trump vot­ers ac­cepted his rhetoric that short-term losses would yield greater prof­its. More im­por­tantly, many of them be­lieved Trump would win the trade war over China.

Trump be­lieves China would sur­ren­der as the trade war es­ca­lates, and thus, the US would embrace huge wins at lit­tle ex­pense. How­ever, Trump has un­der­es­ti­mated China's re­silience and fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties against trade bul­ly­ing as well as the pub­lic will of all Chi­nese who are will­ing to fight to the end. Trump's schemes would only be­come a float­ing cas­tle.

An­other in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tion of Trump's trade war lies in his ob­ses­sion with re­elec­tion. Trump hopes to make big­ger achieve­ments that would en­sure his re­elec­tion in 2020. It has been proven the economic sit­u­a­tion dur­ing elec­tion years di­rectly af­fects elec­tion re­sults. Trump hopes to achieve a trade deal with China that fa­vors the US so that he can bol­ster his im­age as a de­fender of the US econ­omy.

Mean­while, Trump has gone back on his words re­peat­edly dur­ing the trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. The goal is to reach a deal with max­i­mized ben­e­fits by ap­ply­ing max­i­mum pres­sure and de­ter­rence against China. But he has made a mis­take.

China would never ac­cept a deal that hurts its own in­ter­ests. The con­sis­tent at­ti­tude from China has been, “Talk? Our door is wide open. Fight? We will fight to the end!” Trump's wish­ful think­ing will more likely end in vain.

Peo­ple may have dif­fer­ent opin­ions about who has suf­fered the most from the trade war and who will come out the win­ner. One thing that can be guar­an­teed is the trade war will not end with one clear win­ner and one com­pletely dam­aged loser. The au­thor is an as­sis­tant re­search fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. [email protected] globaltime­

Illustrati­on: Liu RUI/GT

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