US-China Trade War: Time is on the Side of the US

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

The US-China trade war has unfolded for nearly a year now. After some false hope of a quick deal, China’s backpedaling in May from earlier promises to stop requiring a technology transfer from US firms in China, and to do more to protect intellectual property, obliterated such hope. Trump’s reaction of raising new tariffs on Chinese goods, followed by China’s retaliation in kind, led to an escalation.

Bipartisan Support of Trade War with China

This escalation of the trade war, interestingly, has not unleashed criticism of President Trump in the US. Sources from the US negotiation team and those from its Chinese counterparts both verified China’s last-minute withdrawal of earlier commitments. There is little doubt that Beijing rather than Trump is to be blamed for this re-escalation. Trump’s strong response to the Chinese backpedaling instead got rare bipartisan support. Congress Democrats are on the same side with the President, judging by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweet, “Hang tough on China, President @realDonaldTrump. Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”[1]

Figure 1. China’s External Financial Position. (Source: World Bank)

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Biden’s Embrace of Globalism Includes Waltzing with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands with U.S Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People on December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Joe Biden drew considerable attention when he said at a campaign rally in Iowa “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” Many wanted to just dismiss this as another one of the former Vice President’s many gaffes. But there is reason to accept this statement as a true expression of his beliefs.

Biden’s soft approach to China is at the core of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, which opened its Washington DC offices in February 2018. The stated aim of the Penn Biden Center (the Penn refers to the University of Pennsylvania which provides the group’s institutional home) is to “Address Threats to the Liberal International Order.” These threats are set out as follows: “The postwar order that America built together with our allies is under attack. The siege comes from multiple directions—from authoritarians who strangle liberty in the name of security to terrorists who radicalize across borders and nationalist leaders who fuel fear and division at home.  Powerful illiberal states are capitalizing on this moment by filling the vacuum of leadership with values that do not match our own. They perceive the success of our system as a threat to theirs—fashioning a zero-sum world.” This is a fine statement, but leaves out who these authoritarian and illiberal adversaries are. China clearly fits the description, but is not mentioned. Russia, however, is: “In particular, under President Putin, Russia seeks to return to an era when the use of force prevails and the world is carved into spheres of influence.” The ethereal menace of “climate change” is also mentioned along with terrorism, cyber attacks and epidemics. So if a list is presented, why isn’t the Beijing regime on it?

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Djibouti, New Battlefield of China’s Global Ambitions

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Hong Kong Baptist University

Ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart from a port on July 11, 2017 in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. VCG/VCG via Getty Images.

On August 1, 2017, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) opened in Djibouti, a former French colony of Eastern Africa, its first outpost overseas. Presented as a logistic support facility rather than a full-fledged military and naval base (1,000 to 2,000 personnel), the PLA presence in this strategic spot is a game changer not only in this part of the world but also globally.

Located next to the Bab el Manded, the strait that controls any southern access to the red sea, Djibouti is of strategic importance not only for China. Since its independence in 1977, it has kept a meaningful albeit diminishing French military presence (1,450 personnel). Since 2002, it also includes a large American military base (4,000). More recently, for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, other militaries, for example the Italians and the Japanese, have set foot in this tiny territory not bigger than Belgium.

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Who Set the Real Trap: Thucydides or Cobden?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 4, April 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks as Chinese and foreign naval officials listen during an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its navy by showing off its growing fleet in a sea parade featuring a brand new guided-missile destroyer. Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP / Getty

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been presenting the world with a number of recent events and declarations which appeasers in the West will undoubtedly use to reinforce the claim by Graham Allison that resisting China’s rise is no longer possible because “China has already passed the United States” in economic strength and military potential.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrated its 70th anniversary with several provocative exercises (including around Taiwan) and a multinational naval review which featured new designs for surface warships and nuclear submarines, as well as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (named for a province on the North Korean border). The PLAN has declared that the carrier has graduated from training and testing to a combat ship ready for action. Two more carriers are under construction. The one similar to the Liaoning is expected to enter service by year’s end. The second is much larger and will bring China’s capabilities to new levels. At the naval review, a new class of guided missile destroyer was unveiled. It is larger with more missile-launching cells than the U.S. Navy’s Burke-class destroyers which are the mainstay of our surface fleet. Showing his commitment to China’s naval expansion, President Xi Jinping donned a military uniform and sailed with the armada during the April 23 celebration.

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President Trump Has Authority to Rebuild American Industry: Use the Defense Production Act of 1950

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By William R. Hawkins

The USS Eisenhower at a dock to complete it’s overhaul, Newport News, Virginia. Ira Block/National Geographic/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s trade reform campaign is not meant only to redress the massive deficit with the People’s Republic of China ($419 billion in goods last year, a net figure of how much American money is supporting jobs and production in China rather than at home). His policies have been rooted in national security concerns with a focus on the dangerous transfer of capital and technology that has empowered Beijing’s military buildup and aggressive behavior along the Pacific Rim and beyond. There is concern that the momentum of his efforts is slowing. He delayed elevating tariffs on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% on March 1st to give negotiations more time to reach a deal. But the PRC regime will never curb its pursuit of the wealth and capabilities it needs to replace the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power. It is a long-term economic contest between rivals for the highest of stakes imaginable.

President Trump and close advisors such as Peter Navarro, Director of the National Trade Council in the White House know this, but need to operate from a strong base. Congress cannot, however, add much to the campaign at present. It is so crippled by factions and sophistries as to have taken itself out of the game. But Congress has left a legacy from earlier, less anarchic times: the Defense Production Act. This core legislation, based on preserving the “Arsenal of Democracy” which won World War II, gives the President broad authority to revive, expand and maintain our domestic industrial base. The DPA was first enacted in 1950, but it is still alive and well, being reauthorized twice by President George W. Bush, amended in 2009 on a bipartisan basis, supported by a 2012 Executive Order issued by President Obama and reauthorized again in 2014.

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