Trade war, day 62: Both sides dig in for long conflict


President Donald Trump is expected to soon move forward with slapping tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese goods (day 61). Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Tom Mitchell points out (paywall) that after China’s expected retaliation, the total value of goods caught up in the trade war would reach $360 billion — “an amount equivalent to two-thirds of their bilateral trade last year.”

Mitchell then argues that the impending escalation is “based on false assumptions”:

  • “The Trump administration wrongly thinks China’s economy is on the ropes, in part because of the escalating trade war.”
  • But the primary cause of a slight moderating of China’s growth is actually a now years-long “campaign to rein in some of the riskiest practices in China’s financial sector” — a campaign which has only been moderately adjusted with the unfortunate timing of the trade war.
  • “Chinese officials are fixated on November’s congressional midterm elections, naively believing that Republican losses will force Mr Trump to back down.”
  • But China still doesn’t understand that “trade is one of the rare ‘crossover issues’ that appeals as much to Bernie Sanders’ Democrats as it does to the president’s core political base” — so the congressional outcome may not impact trade policy.

Tim Keeler, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Trade Representative, mirrored Mitchell’s point about China misunderstanding American politics in an interview on Bloomberg TV:

  • “I think, however, one thing that the Chinese and perhaps some of the markets may not have fully digested is, on this issue of tariffs on chinese imports and this larger fight that the U.S. is having with tariffs — if the democrats take control of the House, there may end up being more support for that type of fight, not less support in Congress.”
  • “It does feel like both sides are digging in for a protracted war,” Keeler added.

But even without the midterm elections as a hoped-for turning point, China may be digging in in the hopes of Trump’s next round of tariffs backfiring:

  • “China may follow a ‘wait and see’ strategy in the next few months,” economists at Deutsche bank wrote, Bloomberg reports (paywall). The economists went so far as to say, “There is a good reason to follow such a strategy in our view: the trade war will likely become painful for the U.S. soon.”
  • The reason: Consumer goods are a much larger proportion of the reported $200 billion in tariffs on the table than the $50 billion already implemented. The economists “estimate the $200 billion list has $78 billion worth of consumer goods versus only $3.7 billion in the $50 billion list,” Bloomberg says.

China is also continuing its strategy of attempting to limit backlash from Washington, but it may not be going so well:

  • Reporters from the Associated Press were invited to interview Shen Changyu, the commissioner of China’s State Intellectual Property Office. (AP)
  • “China’s work on intellectual property protection is solid and very productive. This point should be evaluated objectively and fairly by the international community,” the commissioner said bluntly.
  • The interview “coincided with a series of events organized by Chinese officials, including briefings for foreign reporters by economists and other researchers, seeking to change minds abroad,” the AP says.
  • But the talk about IP protection may be missing the point: “The conflict has largely moved on from over rampant Chinese copying of Hollywood movies, music, software and medicines to one focused on the bedrock of Beijing’s state-led development strategy,” best escapulated by the Made in China 2025 initiative.
  • “The U.S. shouldn’t take Made in 2025 seriously,” Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet told Bloomberg (paywall). But that same Bloomberg article shined light on another aspect of that policy that hasn’t received much attention yet:
  • “The Made in China 2025 Major Technical Roadmap, better known as the Green Book after the color of its original cover,” is an unofficial accompaniment to Made in China 2025’s officials goals.
  • The Green Book contains “jaw-dropping targets,” that “if met would virtually lock foreign companies out of many industrial segments in China and threaten market disruption for businesses across the globe,” Bloomberg writes.

Other trade war news:

Previously in SupChina’s trade war coverage:

Trade war, day 61: Japan and Southeast Asia win; $200 billion more Trump tariffs coming