PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is in full swing; currently, he’s trailing 12 points behind Joe Biden in polls, primarily because of his poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. A flamboyant populist by nature, Trump is a unique politician, whose policies evolve around the revival of America as a global economic power. This reassertion of America’s power includes a very public spat with a formidable opponent — the People’s Republic of China.
As a student of history one often wonders about the thought process of candidate Trump. During his brief political career, he has demonstrated that his actions are based on singling out his opponents, and then leading a forceful propaganda campaign against them.
The 2016 presidential poll campaign is a clear reflection of the Trump mindset, the first and foremost task of which was to tarnish Hilary Clinton’s image by attacking her credibility and integrity, with a promise of sending her to jail. Next, Trump needed to secure the southern evangelical belt; to do that he used heavy Islamophobic rhetoric against Muslims, which was followed by a sharp focus on blue-collar white voters — his central demographic — where he led the charge against China, coupled by rage-fuelled tirades against Hispanic and Latino communities as he promised voters a wall on the Mexican border. All these strategies worked well as Trump’s fear-inducing rhetoric struck a chord of insecurity within US voters, and ‘make America great again’ became Trump’s emblem.
His appointment of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state was the first indication of a shift in US foreign policy, where the future focus of the US would be on its commercial interests rather than its historic strategic allegiances. As a result, the US has now renegotiated two major trade treaties, Nafta and the US-China Trade Agreement. While Trump boasts about the success of these treaties, the reality is quite the opposite. As per Moody’s, as a result of the US-China trade treaty, America has lost around 300,000 manufacturing jobs, and due to Trump’s tariffs on China, an average US household is losing approximately $1,000 per annum of their disposable income.
The real competition is with a 5,000-year-old market force.
The effort to hold China accountable has been perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for the Trump administration, and might be the key feature of the Trump doctrine. In the latest Sino-American conflict, while the US is fully backed and supported by Japan, India, South Korea, the UK and Australia, it faces fair resistance from France, Germany, and Italy as they are heavily dependent on China for their exports.
President Xi Jinping’s Vision 2025, which foresees China’s advancement and leadership into technology, AI, and the robotics sectors, would bring China at a par with the West. The ongoing US sanctions against Huawei may at first seem microscopic and company-specific, but the key objective of these sanctions is to stop the unconditional transfer of technology to China. In other words, China has been put on notice, and, going forward, all Chinese advancements in technology and regional expansion will be monitored by the US and its allies.
This is a short-term solution or a Band-Aid fix to a long-term problem. When competing with China, the real competition is with a 5,000-year-old market force which invests (i) aggressively in potential (not emerging) markets; (ii) in foreign markets with no political influence or impact on internal policy; (iii) in colossal landmark infrastructure projects in developing countries; and (iv) heavily in its own internal healthcare, and food supply chains. Besides, it has a history of producing world class megacities with state-of-the-art infrastructure. All of these are qualities that were once associated with the US.
In addition, with their innate brilliance and work ethic today, Asian-Americans occupy a very respectable status within American society. Mainstream American media has marked Trump’s tirade against China as racist rants against the Asian-American community at large. Furthermore, the Americans realise deep down that heavy tariffs on China will result in inflation, affecting their own economic well-being.
Dealing with a new, resilient China and the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be Trump’s Achilles heel. The president’s initial denial about the existence of a pandemic, or his indifference to it, and the urgency displayed regarding the opening of the economy truly reflects his capitalist nature. While Canada, New Zealand, and China have shown their humane face in combating the pandemic, the Trump administration seems to be more worried about the financial impact of the same. Thus, Trump’s clash with China/Covid-17 may indeed bring about his own political doom, as the potential internal/external backlash continues to threaten Trump’s hold on the White House.
The writer is an international banker based in Toronto.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2020