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The US Trade War: How China Should React

Dr. Bawa Singh

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During the presidential campaign 2016, Donald Trump had made more than 280 promises. However, the pollpromises were formalized through the “Contract with the American Voter,” on October 22, 2016, listing out about the 60 promises for action, the day President would be in office. Out of these promises, currently the plan to curtail Chinese trade was put in practice by the initiating the trade war with China to bridge up the trade deficit with China. In this context, the new trade war has already been set in by imposing a higher tariff against China, particularly its steel and aluminum. It will remain interesting to see how the trade war will unfolds and how China would react?

Out of the  280 poll promises made during the presidential campaign (2016), Donald Trump formalized the same through the “Contract with the American Voter,” issued on October 22, 2016. Realizing the drastic consequences out of trade deficits with China, Trump rolled out a  plan to curtail Chinese trade was the key plank of “Make US Great Again” policy. At the domestic front, the US administration has repeatedly acknowledged that economic slowdown and unemployment in the country are attributed to the trade deficit with China.Trump criticized frequently the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He has taken it as, “the worst trade deal the US has ever signed.” He has also called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as “the death blow for American manufacturing.” Donald Trump in a video message (November 21, 2016), introduced an economic strategy of “Putting America First.” The main focus of the strategy would be to negotiate  the “fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back to American shores.” Only after the three days after becoming president (January 23, 2017), the President Trump withdrew the US from theTrans-Pacific Partnership with the conviction to strengthen the U.S.economy.

The most serious concern for Donald Trump is China and hence he avowed to turn the trade balance in the US favourby imposing high tariffs and other non-tariff trade barriers to resuscitate its economy and creation of job opportunities.

Trade Between the US and China

As per the office of US Trade Representative (USTR),China is the largest trading partner of the US. China is the largest goods trading partner of the US, the quantum of whichwas standing at $578.2 billion in two way during 2016. The trade in services between the US and China is stood at an estimated quantum of  $70.3 billion (2016). The exports of the services on part of the US is $54.2 billion while the imports of the same were $16.1 billion having services trade surplus in its favour of the value of $38.0 billion (2016).The exports of goods on part of the US is totaled at $115.6 billion, whereas the imports of the same is  $462.6 billion. Therefore, as far as the trade balance is concerned, it is in favour of China,totaled at  $347.0 billion in 2016.

As far as the US export of goods is concerned since 2001, it has shown exponential growth i.e., 503%. In 2016, it was reached to $115.6 billion, however, the same has shown somewhat minor slump i.e., 0.3% ($330 million) during the year of 2015. The top goods include in the export category are agriculture ($ 21 bn); grain, seeds, fruit ($15 billion); aircraft ($15 billion); electrical machinery ($12 billion);  machinery ($11 billion) and vehicles ($11 billion). In the services category, the export was estimatedat$54.2 billion (2016). It is said that it was increased roughly 908% since 2001. The leading services exports from the U.S. to China are intellectual property (trademark, computer software),travel, and transport sectors.

The US is the largest destination for Chinese exports. The Chinese goods export to the US is totaled $462.6 billion (2016). However, it has shown somewhat decline at the rate of 4.3% ($20.6 billion) from 2015, but it has shown continuous increased growth at the rate of  60.8% since 2006. The Chinese contribution in the overall US goods import accounts for 21.1% (2016). The Chinese goods export list included electrical machinery ($129 billion), machinery ($97 billion), furniture and bedding ($29 billion), toys and sports equipment ($24 billion) and footwear ($15 billion). China is the 3rd largest agricultural goods exporter to the US i.e., $4.3 billion (2016).

The major concern on part of the US is the trade deficit, which is in favour of China. In 2016, the same was stood at $367 billion (2015), however, it was decreased at the rate of 5.5% decrease ($20.2 billion) totaling at $347 billion in 2016. Again, the trade deficit reached $375 billion (2017). The US exports to China were only $130 billion, whereas its imports from China were $506 billion. Moreover, China is the largest lender to the US. The debt of the US from China as of January 2018, is $1.17 trillion. The leadership of the US percieved that it gives a massive political leverage to China over the US fiscal policy.

Trade War Between the US and China

The major root of the trade war been the US and China has been embedded in the trade deficit. Even being a major power, the US has not been able to bridge up the gap of trade deficit. It has been argued that trade war originates from Chinese trade and industrial policies. Apart from these policies, Chinese currency manipulation has further put the both countries on confrontational mode. However, Trupms’s being one plus year in office, the trade deficit has not been showing any positive sign in the US favour. Ultimately, hehad  to launcha salvo of tariffs against China as in the year of 2017, the U.S. trade deficit with China is stood at US$   375 billion in 2017. The  U.S. exports to China is only $130 billion, whereas it imports stood at $506 billion.

The trade deficit of the US vis-a-vis China has been percieved as a consequence of the latters’restrictive trade practices. The restrictions include a wide array of barriers to foreign goods and services. Although, China has introduced its open market economy in 1978 and even expanded the scope of the same after becoming the member of the WTO (2001). However, China  has introduced the market economy but its trade and industrial policies are aimed at protecting the state-owned enterprises by levying the high tariffsover the imports. Moreover, the other restrictions such as theindustries required special permission to import goods, inconsistent application of laws and regulations, transfer of technology from the foreign firmsfor the Chinese market access etc. Apart from these restriction, the lack of transparency and currency manipulation on part of China have been emerging as major concerns for the Trumps’regime. Therefore, it has become a major compulsionon part of the Trump regime to take a hard-line stance against China.

Within the seventy-day in administration, the President Trump  in his administration’s annual trade policy report to Congress (March 2017), had openly challenged the World Trade Organization (WTO)particularly for “China’s unfair advantage.” He went further with the accusation of  Chinese dumping of  steel,  aluminum and chemical products. In the same month, the US Department of Commerce had announced two antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty investigations (CVD)against China. Even the pre-Trump regimes have also been engaged with China over the dumping casesin the WTO. The Obama administration had become frustrated over Chinese economic reforms and increasingly skeptical about the prospect for future reforms. Till date, the US has registered 16 cases against China, to address its concerns such as Chinese Ads, CVDs, industrial policy and the dominance of state-owned enterprises.In this background, China has turned to the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) of the WTO to address such perceived unfairness use of such investigations. China had filed 11 cases against the US at the WTO as the former percieves per se the leading target of the USs’ AD and CVD investigations. Robert ELighthizer (United States Trade Representative) has also givenan indication that the U.S. may take action against the WTO for its alleged failures not to check the Chinese unfair trade practices.

President Trump has aired portentous signals with the beginning of the year of 2018. The salvo of high tariffs had launched against its trade deficit with China. President Trump by using the Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, had unilaterally imposed trade tariffs on China. In January, he imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. In a tweet issued on March 2, 2018, Trump asserted that “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” President Trump had signed an executive memorandum on 22 March 2018 to enforce  25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. The measures have been designed to counter the Chinese unfair trade practices as the administration believes that it involves stealing of the US companiesintellectual property. Trump gave signals that the tariffs would cover at least cover  $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods.

Chinas Reactions

China has reacted very aggressively to the US’s new trade war. It has been seen that China is in assertive mode and not going to budge to the US pressure. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “We don’t want a trade war, but we are not afraid of it.”If we unfold the statement, it clearly conveyed the message to the US, how China is likely going to take the sanctions? Moreover,  the Chinese Commerce Ministry has  also used the same tone and tenor while asking  the Trump regime on 28 March not to go ahead with such planned tariffs. It can be taken as a warning signal to the Trump regime as China could set off a same chain of  reactions. Moreover, the Xi governemnt has given clear signal that China would,“fight to the end.” Although, the US economically and militarly is in stronger position but at the same time China has also been following the suit. China has been emerged a stronger economy, moreover, it is a major lender to the US which gives its stronger position vis-a-vis the US. If the trade war lingers on, the losses or gains are not unilateral. One can percieve  that the US has to suffer more losses as compared to China. The developing countries have already opened up and messed up their economies under the global instituions’ pressure. In this milieu, loss of employment opportunities, health services and education, suicides of the farmers, loss of local industries and many more challanges have become the part and parcel of the people’s life.  In this miliu, it should be left to the individual countries’ decision, how much its economy is to be opened? Moreover, if any country is asked for the same, it should be under the international laws, not as per the invidual countries’s whimsical and impulsive actions.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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East Asia

How China is helping Iran skirt US sanctions

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Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said eight countries, most notable China, would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil.

Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an important announcement. It was a calculated move to avoid a major embarrassment. The hawks in the power corridors of Washington had anticipated the backlash of sanctions on US foreign policy with many global powers rebuffing Trump’s foolhardy move.

Pompeo said eight countries would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil due to special circumstances. The countries included China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Many of these countries had quite clearly indicated that they would not be cutting oil imports from Iran under the US pressure, most importantly China, Turkey, and India – three of Iran’s largest oil customers.

While India has its own strategic interests in maintaining good relations with Tehran, for instance, the Chabahar port project in Sistan-Baluchistan, Turkey’s relations with Washington have hit a new low following sanctions and trade tariffs imposed by the US.

China, which has emerged as a viable counterweight to US hegemony in the world and a protagonist of new international economic policy, has unambiguously reaffirmed its commitment to keep alive the Iran nuclear deal and stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On November 5, when the petroleum-related sanctions came into effect, Chinese foreign ministry said it will continue to “hold a fair, objective and responsible attitude” and “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights”, while reiterating its opposition to the unilateral US sanctions.

“China feels sorry for the US’ decision and we noticed that the international world as a whole opposes the practice of such unilateral sanctions,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing.

She said Iran has been seriously fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA and its efforts have been recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency dozen times. She also affirmed that China will firmly safeguard its lawful rights while continuing to adhere to JCPOA and urged relevant parties to stand on the “right side of history”.

China has maintained that implementing the Iranian nuclear deal is akin to safeguarding the authority of UN Security Council, basic norms of international law, international non-proliferation treaty and peace and stability in the Middle East.

As one of the remaining signatories of the JCPOA, along with European Union countries who are exploring options to circumvent the US sanctions, Beijing wants to keep the deal alive. China, believe experts, is in a better position compared to other Asian countries as it is not subservient to US interests and is already embroiled in a bitter trade war with Washington.

For all parties of the JCPOA, Iranian crude oil is the main commodity of interest, particularly for Beijing. In 2017, one-third of Iran’s oil was supplied to China, which underlines the significance of oil trade between the two countries. China’s commitment to continue importing oil from Iran is very likely to deal a body blow to US ploy of reducing Iranian oil imports to zero and ‘starving’ the Iranian nation.

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the influential Chinese daily Global Times, told Tehran Times that there was no possibility of Washington reducing the Iranian oil exports to zero, “because Washington lacks righteousness to do so, therefore it can’t have the full support of the international community”.

To continue oil trade in different currencies other than dollar, Iran has been in talks with key allies, including China. On September 29, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran would circumvent sanctions by conducting trade in all currencies to avoid using the US dollar. “You can use your own currency. Sell stuff in your own currency, buy stuff in the other country’s currency, and at the end of a specific period, balance it out in a non-dollar currency. It’s quite possible and may even be profitable,”

China, which is the largest oil importer in the world with around nine million barrels imports every day, has been making concerted efforts to reshape the global oil market with increased usage of its currency in oil trading. If Chinese currency manages to replace the US dollar, it will be a masterstroke.

US has been rendered friendless and isolated in its quest to tear up the Iran deal and force countries to cut oil imports from Iran. European Union has already refused to back down on the Iran deal, exploring ways to develop payment channels to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports. The goal, according to a statement issued by EU, “is to protect the freedom of other economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran”.

Beijing has expressed its full support to the EU’s proposal to set up a “special payments system” to facilitate trade with Iran and safeguard the Iranian nuclear deal, which experts believe will significantly reduce reliance on the US dollar in the global oil trade. That will be a game-changer.

First published in our partner MNA

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East Asia

The Implication of China’s Diplomacy in APEC and ASEAN

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It is truly unusual that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and its Premier Li Keqiang are visiting the same area during nearly the same time: Xi’s visit to APEC from15th to 21st November and Li’s visit to ASEAN on 15th November. Yet, if we look into China’s foreign policy towards this area over the past years since President Xi took power, it is not difficult to understand both Xi’s and Li’s official visits to the “larger Pacific” and the meaning beyond.

As we know, President Xi has reiterated that the Pacific is large enough for the countries involved to share the prosperity with each other. In order to achieve the inclusive rather than exclusive benefits for all, China’s diplomacy aims to reject any kind of unilateralism, trade protectionism and anti-globalization. Given this, Xi’s at APEC and Li’s at AEASN is defined as a signal of China’s diplomacy to further reform and bold openness.

As a rising great country, China is surely eager to expand its investment and trade with the south Pacific area, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the first country visited by Chinese president. What is more, PNG joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) early 2018 and then became the first state of Pacific islands to sign the MoU on “The Belt and Road Initiative” construction. As the theme “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future,” the APEC summit will focus on Regional economic integration, digital economy, connectivity, sustainable and inclusive growth and so forth.

Also during Premier Li’s visit to the ASEAN, he highlighted the necessity of the collaboration and mutual benefit among the countries involved on the 21st China-ASEAN leaders meeting. This is also the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Summit (10+3) and the 13th East Asia Summit (EAS).

Quite understandable, since the 1960s, the center of world economy has shifted from North Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, its dynamic growth in the region create countless jobs and push the development of world economy. This is the reason that Asia-Pacific region has the most trade agreements and the most complicated economic architecture around world. APEC and ASEAN, as two institutions that possess most member states, are the very pillars of the tumbledown regional economic architecture. APEC was launched by Australia and later included 21 member states in the region, amongst are United States, China, Japan, the economic giant three of the world economy. ASEAN is an institution that consist of ten small and middle states. Though they are not strong enough to meet the challenges from the power politics alone, ASEAN is a core force that firmly facilitate the economic integration of the whole region of East Asia and the Pacific. No matter what the way they embrace, they are the de facto basic regionalism of Asia-Pacific. The withdrawing of United States from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and hard-achieved Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) once brought the regional economic architecture a fig leave and strengthened the impact of APEC and ASEAN.

As a result, the two visits of Chinese top leaders to the same region at the same time definitely attract worldwide attention, because they not only represent China’s recent diplomatic focus but also mark the fact that Asia-Pacific region has become one of the vital fields where China’s diplomacy will be actively conducting in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative, and carry on the good-neighbor policy. Since China has argued for creating a peaceful development milieu, to enhance economic transformation and upgrading oversea markets and partners in Asia-Pacific region.

Consider these facets, China, as the second largest economy, aims to promote its well-articulated stance on multilateralism and inclusiveness and globalization. As both President Xi and Premier Li have strongly said that China is ready to work with Pacific island countries to endeavor together and sail for a better future for bilateral relations. For the sake of that goal, China always believes that as long as all the countries involved have firm confidence in each other’s development, cooperation and the future of East Asia, and work closely together and forge ahead, all sides would achieve more and reach a higher level in the next 15 years.

For sure, China belongs to the part of a larger Asia-Pacific family, and the Chinese government defines its goal as the shared prosperity of this region. Therefore, China will continue to work hard and constructively to promote the overall development of impoverished but promising Pacific island countries under the Belt and Road Initiative.

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East Asia

An uncertain step in moving China-Japan relations

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Authors: Meshach Ampwera  & Luo Xinghuan

On October 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and praised that both China and Japan have pledged to strengthen bilateral ties amid continuous efforts made by the two nations. Xi said, “Bilateral relations have returned to the right track and gained positive momentum, which is something the two sides should cherish.” As the two largest economies in Asia, China and Japan are also the vital players in Asian security and the global development.

In addition, since this is the first official visit to China by a Japanese PM in a seven-year “Cold Peace” period, it is widely assumed that Abe’s visit symbolizes the resumption of high-level visits and will be followed by an increasing rapprochement between China and Japan. True, the leaders of the two economic giants witnessed a wide range of agreements, including a 30 billion US dollar worth of currency swap pact, the establishment of a maritime and air liaison mechanism, and enhancing people-to-people exchanges.

Yet, three factors have to be considered seriously in looking into Japanese foreign policy given the current changing geopolitical landscape regionally and globally. First, Japan has still regarded itself as a “defeated” state during the WWII. Since then, Japan’s postwar posture has frequently described as a new pacifism; yet in fact it is considerably more complex. As Henry Kissinger put it: “Japan had acquiesced in the U.S. predominance and followed the strategic landscape and the imperatives of Japan’s survival and long-term success.” This means that the governing elites in Tokyo used to hold the constitution drafted by U.S. occupying authorities with its stringent prohibition on military action, and adapted to their long-term strategic purposes. As a result, Japan was transformed from the pacific aspects of the postwar order (that prohibited military action) into a nation that has focused on other key elements of national strategy, particularly using economic leverage regionally and globally, though not uncontroversial.

Second, in a recently-released paper written by the former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he maintained that “Japan is a close ally of the U.S. and a rising military power, too, because of legal and constitutional changes of great significance championed by Prime Minister Abe.” In practice, the Japanese administration has engineered an expansion to enable its military to operate regionally and even globally in response to the rise of China, violent extremist activity in Asia, and the alleged North Korean belligerence.

Actually in 2013, Japanese Government White Paper revealed a desire to become a “normal country” with an active alliance policy. In a searching for a new role in the Asia-pacific region, Japan aims to act as an “anchor” of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) concluded in 2018 after the withdrawal of the United States. Now it involves 11 countries and representing 13.4% of global GDP ($ 13.5tri.). As the largest economy of the CPTPP, Japan has been active in moving it forward. Early this year when the British government stated it is exploring becoming a member of the CPTPP to stimulate exports after Brexit in 2019, Abe stated that the United Kingdom would be welcomed to join the partnership. It is said that even the U.S. reconsiders possibly rejoining the CPTPP if it were a “substantially new deal” for the United States.

Japan’s ardent involvement into the US-led strategy in Asia has also been endorsed to expand steadily as a normal power regionally and globally. For example, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is the result of the joint declaration issued by the India and Japan in 2016. Although it is premised on four pillars of development and cooperation, it is self-evident that the AAGC reflects a growing special “strategic and global partnership between India and Japan” in which both sides have viewed China’s growing, pragmatic and successful presence in Africa as a menace. There is no question that AAGC is a well-crafted vision and agenda of both India and Japan, linking with their own development priorities. But with increasing pressure from Washington and Brussels, Japan and India are in effect driven by the option for the AAGC to rebalance China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

From the inception of the BRI, they have more than ever before been concerned with being isolated in Africa by Beijing’s initiative. But, as Ampwera Meshach, a researcher at Jilin University put it, “Africa is on the growth trend and offers potential markets and raw materials. For this reason, Africa largely needs pragmatic and scientific, technological and development- oriented initiatives and these are clearly reflected in China’s BRI.” In light of this, the AAGC does neither reflect a novel nor pragmatic approach on how it fits within the African agenda. Instead, AAGC’s foundational pillars seem more inclined to the Western cooperation approaches that have for decades not been translated into development.

Controversially, two days before Abe’s visit to Beijing, Japan had decided to scrap official development assistance (ODA) to China, which is a program where Japan provides aids to developing countries starting back in 1954. Even though some people argue that Japan’s ODA is reasonably cancelled because China’s GDP is even 2.5 times larger than that of Japan, yet, it is necessary for Chinese to be aware of the reality that Japan is a longstanding ally of the United States. As Japan has long been an economic power, its impressive military capabilities would not be confined to a strict policy of territorial defense—no projection of Japanese power or the U.S.-Japan alliance to the region as a whole.

It is during the Abe’s administration which has recognized an environment of growing Chinese assertiveness, violent extremist activity in Asia, and North Korean hostility, and therefore, Japan has eagerly participated in Asian security, including training and exercising with other nations, beyond a purely passive, home-island defense role. This makes it an increasingly important player serving the US strategy in Asia but challenging the rise of China globally.

It is true that Abe tweeted about the trip — while recognizing the challenges in moving bilateral relations forward, he said that he would still work to “push Sino-Japan relations to the next level”. Given the two countries’ economic links, it is only understandable that there is a need for the two sides to come closer. Moreover, Japanese businesses has been an extremely active force behind the government’s shift of attitude on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Yet, all in all, we should never ignore that Japan’s ambitious foreign policy has gone beyond the economic goal.

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