Trump: the one man army taking on China

The trade war doesn't contain China’s rise

Ethan Gardiner

International relations, Economics | Asia, East Asia

1 October 2019

The US-China trade war is symptomatic of Trump’s attempts at defining his first term in office, but he’s not doing enough to address domestic issues, Ethan Gardiner writes.

President Trump’s ‘trade war’ is motivated by an illusion of grandeur and the empty promises made to American voters; bringing back jobs lost to foreign countries and reigniting a new wave of investment into the American economy.

Having tapped into the Midwest of the United States, Trump’s promises of bringing back the ‘good ol’ days’ certainly resonated with the forgotten communities that progress left behind. The one man army of Trump in this ‘trade war’ is revered as the working class’ champion, whether or not he actually represents their interests.

As the name behind a multibillion dollar empire and former reality television star, Trump is the furthest point possible from being a US-Sino foreign policy savant. At the helm of this relationship, this commander -in-chief has managed to unravel decades of economic cooperation and relations within a matter of months.

Any belief that Trump carefully considered his options before declaring a ‘trade war’ would be very misplaced. Acting primarily off intuition and ego, the president has ignored the advice of his senior council and aides.  As such, this presents the very obvious question,

What does Trump think he’s doing?

It would be too bold for any observer to view this trade war as the articulation of American interests and an attempt to contain China’s rise. Rather, this ‘war’ should be viewed as a desperate attempt of a floundering president to define his first term in office, which has already been riddled with scandal, espionage and controversy.

Wars are generally defined as sustained attacks from one state actor to another, in the hopes of achieving a greater political purpose. However, this is certainly not the case between the US and China.

Poking an economic giant with tariffs will have little to no effect on achieving any larger political purpose, especially if the underlying goal is to restructure the Chinese economic model.

Realistically, what these tariffs will do is hurt American consumers.

Trump promised to protect Americans and yet they are exactly the people he’s hurting the most. Unsurprisingly.

Now more than ever, what Americans really need is some economic support with growing fears of a recession around the corner.

Perhaps, the greatest hypocrisy underlying this ‘war’ is Trump’s self-professed love for China. Ironically, even the president cannot help himself to utilising cheap labour from China to gain that ‘competitive edge’.

He is a businessman after all, who could blame his desire to exploit workers in foreign countries? Trump even admits, that his very own label of clothing is made in countries like China, Vietnam, Turkey and Indonesia.  Supporting the very countries that have taken ‘jobs away from American workers.’

At the heart of nearly all US foreign policy engagement, maintaining hegemony is a key goal. And at times, the level of engagement distinguishes the very legacies of presidents. Albeit to foster the US-Sino relationship, or to respond to an egregious actor.

Look to examples as recent as the Obama Administration and his ‘Pivot’ to the Indo-Pacific region. This was an unprecedented restructuring of U.S. foreign policy unlike anything the world had ever seen and the work of previous administrations should not go unnoticed in the attempt to slow China’s rise.

Whilst Trump may believe what he is doing is ensuring America’s power, what he is really doing is undermining it. Instead of saying this ‘trade war’ is strategic American foreign policy formulation, what one can only really say is that this has been the greatest embarrassment to the free market, democracy and maintaining the world’s economic order; all of which, America is perceived to be the bedrock of.

The ‘war’ does not show any intention of containing China’s rise, rather it reeks of a president trying not to undermine his controversial campaign promises.

If President Trump wanted to address China’s rise, perhaps looking in his own backyard and solving the issues there would be a good place to start. The most important being a massive reskilling of the American people left behind from innovation.

Manufacturing is no longer the foundation to US economic growth, so why should old industries like iron ore production or car manufacturing continue to be the life support of protectionist policies? What this desperate, ill-advised stance does, is stunt America’s potential.

America is an innovator amongst the global community, what Trump needs to do is double down on innovation. As it stands, China just has all the forces necessary for it to be the manufacturing exporter of the world.

Thus, focusing on his own people rather than those thousands of kilometres away might be the solution to containing a China’s rise and widen the closing gap between the rising power and the United States.

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