Mon, Aug 20, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Unsure of how to handle Trump, China braces for ‘new Cold War’

Pessimism among current and former Chinese officials, researchers and business executives stems from their belief that Trump’s ever-increasing tariffs are part of his efforts to prevent their nation from overtaking the US as the world’s largest economy

By Daniel Ten Kate and Wes Kosova  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Yusha

Perhaps nowhere outside the US’ heartland is US President Donald Trump given more credit than in Beijing.

In government offices and think tanks, universities and state-run newsrooms, there is an urgent debate underway about what many here see as the hidden motive for Washington’s escalating trade war against Chinse President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government: A grand strategy, devised and led by Trump, to thwart China’s rise as a global power.

“The Trump administration has made it clear that containing China’s development is a deeper reason behind the tariff actions,” said He Weiwen (何偉文), a former Chinese Ministry of Commerce official and now a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, an independent research group filled with former bureaucrats.

These sentiments were echoed by many of the more than two dozen current and former government officials, business executives, state-affiliated researchers, diplomats and state-run media editors interviewed for this article. Most requested anonymity to speak their minds about sensitive matters.

A common suspicion ran through the conversations — that the tariffs are just a small part of Trump’s plan to prevent China from overtaking the US as the world’s largest economy. Several people expressed concern that the two nations may be heading into a long struggle for global dominance that recalls the last century’s rivalry between the US and Soviet Union.

“The trade war has prompted thinking in China on whether a new cold war has begun,” said An Gang (安剛), a senior research fellow at the Pangoal Institution, an independent research group in Beijing whose experts include former government officials.

The dispute, “now has military and strategic implications,” he says, reflecting concern among some in Beijing that tensions could spill over into Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

The general pessimism is a major shift among China’s elite, many of whom had initially welcomed the rise of a US president viewed as a transactional pragmatist who would cut a deal to narrow a US$375 billion trade deficit for the right price.

Now, with tariffs on US$34 billion of goods already in effect and duties on another US$216 billion in the pipeline, a majority saw no quick fix to a problem that is starting to rattle the country’s top leaders.

The turning point came a few months ago, when Trump put a stop to a deal for China to buy more energy and agricultural goods to narrow the trade deficit. Not only did that insult Xi, China’s all-powerful leader who had sent a personal emissary to Washington for the negotiations, but it crystallized a view in Beijing that Trump will not quit until he thwarts China’s rise once and for all.

“Donald Trump is a smart negotiator who has accumulated abundant experience in doing business for many years — and also from the show The Apprentice,” said Wang Huiyao (王輝耀), an adviser to the State Council and founder of the Center for China and Globalization, whose advisory council is stacked with former lawmakers.

While “China is open to negotiations,” he said, Trump’s pressure tactics “will only arouse Chinese nationalism, which will be counterproductive.”

The ramifications of that are now rippling through a society that has embraced US consumer culture — Big Macs, Bentley cars and Chanel handbags are ubiquitous in Beijing — even as it retains a one-party political system that champions large state enterprises and has little tolerance for dissent.

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