Trump pokes Beijing in the eye with appointment of ‘Death by China’ author

Business & Technology

Top China news for December 22, 2016. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at


Trump picks Death by China author for new trade post

Donald Trump has once again signaled his intentions to upset the status quo of U.S.-China relations, this time by selecting Peter Navarro to lead a new White House office in charge of trade and industrial policy. Navarro is the author of a book called Death by China and the director of a film of the same name. The New York Times says Navarro “has built a quiet career as an academic economist,” but he has no experience in government. Richard McGregor, author of The Party, published a review in February in the Financial Times of the book, stating it is “part of a frustrating genre, of a call to arms against a menacing rival superpower that is invariably portrayed as acting out of the worst of motives”; he also notes archly that “Navarro is not entirely to blame for the limits of his insight” because of the opacity of the Chinese government.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article on China’s “measured response” to Navarro’s appointment, while The New Yorker’s Jiayang Fan comments that “the president-elect has shown that his instinct is to turn the world’s significant bilateral relationships into frighteningly spectacular reality TV, even if doing so means the casual use of the most lethal gambits.”

What should China do about its foreign exchange reserves?

The Financial Times reports that as China’s foreign exchange reserves have shrunk from a peak of $4 trillion in 2014 to current levels of around $3 trillion, “economically literate officials in Beijing argue that China’s forex stockpile is both an embarrassment of riches and a problem to manage.” Rather, they believe that the country would manage with forex reserves of $2 trillion, or even $1 trillion. The Times adds, “On the other side of the debate are the mercantilists, some of them senior members of the leadership without formal economic training, who equate large forex holdings with national strength and prestige.”

Bogus news about smog

Yesterday, we linked to a story in the South China Morning Post that included theories that electricity-generating wind farms might be a contributing factor to air pollution in the capital. Deborah Seligsohn, a researcher at UC San Diego with years of experience analyzing air pollution in Beijing, wrote to us and commented that this theory is disinformation. The only published paper of any repute that addresses this issue was published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which says that “no observational or simulation-based evidence would suggest that…wind farm wakes would persist far enough to affect Beijing air quality.” Greenpeace China tracks air pollution and has published a blog entry that explains the reversal in air pollution improvements lucidly, stating that “the uptick in PM2.5 correlates directly to increased steel production in the Beijing/Tianjin/Hebei area.” Seligsohn also noted that there is “robust literature showing that wind farms reduce air pollution because of the obvious mechanism of substituting for fossil fuels.”

Happily, the skies cleared over much of northern China today.

Sinica Podcast: John Pomfret, Part Two

Today on SupChina, we publish the second part of the Sinica Podcast interview with John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present. This second half of our conversation takes us from the Treaty of Versailles, which settled World War I, through the Civil War and up to the present. SupChina has additionally printed, with permission, the prologue of John’s book.

SupChina video

SupChina’s first video goes live today: a series of short interviews with Chinese people in New York on what they see as the biggest news to affect China in 2016. You can watch it on YouTube. Do send feedback to or comment on social media.


More China news worth reading is summarized below, with the more important stories at the top of each section.


    • Alibaba, labeled ‘notorious,’ faces growing pressure over fakes / NYT
      “On Wednesday, American trade officials said that they had added Taobao, the Alibaba Group’s sprawling online shopping bazaar in China, to its list of the world’s most notorious markets for counterfeit goods,” reports Cao Li. “The addition — an embarrassing setback four years after Alibaba successfully lobbied American officials to drop the platform from the list — comes as the owners of brands increasingly complain about the proliferation of fakes on the company’s sales platforms.”
    • China insurance regulator tightening new license issuance — sources / Reuters
      “China’s insurance regulator is making it much tougher for insurers to get new licenses as it seeks to reduce risks resulting from the aggressive business and investment practices of some players, said three people with knowledge of the matter.”
    • U.S. farmers eye Trump’s China trade policy / Financial Times
      “Mr. Trump’s anti-globalization campaign platform during the elections has raised concerns about protectionist economic policies and the impact on U.S. imports and exports of commodities, especially with China.”
    • Opinion: Why China and Hollywood don’t mix / Bloomberg
      “Increasingly, China’s moviegoers and news media have taken to mocking Hollywood’s over-the-top efforts to insert Chinese actors and products into films…for no other reason than to expand market share,” writes Adam Minter. “That’s partly why audiences haven’t been interested in what happens when Hollywood and China team up.”
    • The long-term jobs killer is not China. It’s automation / NYT
      “No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways.”