The White House is planning to sign a partial trade deal between the US and China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Chile on 16-17 November regardless of scepticism voiced by the Democrats and former Obama administration officials.
Just a few days before the October breakthrough in the US-China talks, Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under President Barack Obama, predicted the continuation of a US-China trade stalemate. As he told Nikkei on 10 October, his "Chinese counterparts see Trump's leverage in trade talks as weakened by his political problems", while "their willingness to give concessions has eroded since they've taken hits this year".
It contrast, Barack Obama's China strategy was viewed as relatively successful and scandal-free. Assessing the US president's Asian policy in October 2016, Foreign Affairs magazine noted that he had managed to both meet the challenge of China's rise and to "encourage [Beijing] to contribute to multilateral global governance", adding that although US-Chinese security relations and the Asia-Pacific region had become more tense, "that [was] not necessarily the Obama team’s fault".
'The Chinese Were No Fans of Obama, Didn't Respect Dems'
However, according to Thomas W. Pauken II, the author of "US vs. China: From Trade War to Reciprocal Deal" and a commentator on Asia-Pacific issues who has spent the past decade in Beijing, Barack Obama's China strategy was far from flawless.
"[Obama] encouraged his former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch a diplomatic initiative, known as 'Pivot to Asia', which was intended to contain the rise of China in the Asia-Pacific Region", Pauken recalls. "He stirred up strife by demanding Asian nations spark territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea".
On the other hand, "the Chinese were no fans of Obama", the author highlights.
The Asia commentator referred to a confusing episode described by The Guardian in September 2016 when the then US president was denied the usual red carpet welcome when he arrived in Hangzhou to take part in the G20 and "was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly".
Although a Chinese Foreign Ministry official later explained that Obama's bumpy landing had been caused by the US delegation's refusal to use the usual rolling red-carpet staircase, Pauken believes that it was not a coincidence.
"The Chinese are strong believers in ceremony and showing good manners and when they treated Obama as a non-dignitary, the message was loud and clear they were very happy to see him leave the White House", the author suggests.
Besides, the former president failed to induce China to make concession beneficial to the US people, the commentator remarks.
According to him, the Democrats' approach to China was not respected by the Chinese, who considered Obama "weak" and "bluffing": "They knew Obama was a pushover during trade negotiations… The US never delivered economic pain to China and on account of that Beijing had no motivation to make good on concessions in trade talks".
Pauken suggests that when Donald J. Trump entered the White House and threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese imports, Beijing could have wrongly concluded that Trump was bluffing like his predecessor and they called him on it. The rest is history.
"Chinese trade officials were angry but they learned to respect President Trump", the Asia commentator remarks. "Hence, the Trump strategy has proven far more effective than how Democrats were confronting China over trade policy".
Democratic Hopeful Warren: 'Really Bad News for China' if Elected
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls describe Trump's Asia-Pacific policy as chaotic and messy, with Tom Steyer calling the US president a "fraud and failure".
The question then arises as to where Democratic candidates stand on China and whether they may offer a "better" US-China deal.
In October 2019, Business Insider asked 18 Democratic presidential hopefuls as to how they would deal with the US-China trade issue if elected. Only six of them responded to the media outlet's requests. Tom Stayer, Joe Sestak, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and John Delaney said they would either fully review or completely remove all the tariffs imposed by Trump and expressed concerns about China's "human rights violation" issues. For her part, Marianne Williamson admitted that she "sometimes appreciate[s] Trump's tough stand with China", but blamed him for creating "a chaotic situation".
That does not mean that the Dems are going to treat Beijing with kid gloves. James J. Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, author, and the host of CNBC's Mad Money, opined on 7 October that Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential frontrunner, "would be really bad news for China".
China is trying to use its market power to silence free speech and criticism of its conduct. In response, the NBA chose its pocketbook over its principles—and our values. We should all be speaking out in support of those protesting for their rights. https://t.co/IRiIY1cgDg— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly called out China for what she called the human rights and religious freedoms violations. She is also known as an ardent supporter of the Hong Kong protests and has urged the US resident "to stand up for America’s values" in China, while the Trump administration largely sees the ongoing unrest as the People's Republic's internal affair.
This is a moment for American leadership. The country needs a president capable of both advancing U.S. economic interests and standing up for America’s values, not one who sees the two as in conflict with one another.https://t.co/PB41JBvc4j— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 3, 2019
"Yes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will be far tougher on China than Trump", Pauken agrees, adding that she appears to be ready to risk war with China to defend the Hong Kong "pro-democracy" protesters. "Warren will raise taxes on US citizens and that will harm the US economy, causing higher unemployment rates and as a result US consumption will plunge and Chinese imports will see lower demand in the US market".
While Dems are Weighing Pros & Cons, Trump is About to Strike a Deal
While Trump's Democratic competitors are criticising his Asia strategy and weighing up the pros and cons of new approaches, the US-China partial trade deal is heading to completion and is likely to bear concrete and tangible results, according to the Beijing-based commentator.
He argues that the tit-for-tat game between Washington and Beijing was "part of the process of reciprocity in trade talks", which he explains in detail in his book, "US vs. China: From Trade War to Reciprocal Deal".
"The Chinese consider saving face very important on culture matters, so if you strike a Chinese person, they believe to save face they must strike back", Pauken says. "Hence, the tit-for-tat had become a trap set by Trump to force the Chinese economy to feel more pain. Eventually, Chinese trade officials had concluded that such a strategy does not create a win-win scenario for them so they offered to end [the] trade wars by pledging to purchase US agriculture imports valued at US$40-50 billion for the next two years".
Pauken believes that the partial deal will become a win-win solution for both nations: while American farmers and ranchers are posed to be big winners, "so will Shanghai as the financial hub for China".
He highlights that Beijing has pledged to allow US-based investment firms and banks to enter Shanghai and foresees that Shenzhen, China’s Silicon Valley, will open up to US hi-tech investors, as well as doing a better job at protecting intellectual property rights and stopping forced tech transfers.
At the same time, "the yuan will strengthen if final trade talks are going well", the author predicts. Recently, the Chinese currency has been trading above seven-per-dollar even after Washington and Beijing reached an agreement in mid-October.
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