Posted tagged ‘China’

How Can One Be So Wrong On Trade?

June 16, 2018

With a Republican (or Democrat) Administration, how could one not expect trade policies would flavor someone?  Normally the favored ones are some sector of the US economy that votes Republican (or Democrat), such as farming, financials, or manufacturing.  With Donald Trump, there never is any free lunch so the question is, “who (which group) is getting the help from Trump’s tariff wars?

When one considers the steel and aluminum tariffs against Mexico and Canada, which domestic group is Trump thinking about helping?  Could it be US steel manufacturers, or dairy farms, or farm interests?  And why exactly is (once more) is NAFTA so bad?

While you are thinking of that answer, consider, what is the purpose of the simultaneous attack on China trade balances?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to define one set of goals before embarking upon another?

The simple answer, says President Trump, “ there are grievous trade infractions with China and these must be rectified”.  But is a trade war wise, or better said, are trade wars on two fronts wise?  Hmmm.  How about trade wars globally and include Europe and Southeast Asia?

President Trump has proposed that the trade imbalance is so wide with China, in any “trade war”, the US would easily win.  Hmmm.

I wonder whether any of President Trump’s advisors has given the President a “casualty” assessment.  While killing all the Chinese trade offenders, how many US trading partners will die too?

The infrequently discussed contribution to the US economy by trade with China is the imported costs of so many utilitarian items… such as underwear, shirts, pants, nuts, bolts, etc… where an equivalent American made product would cost 50-100% more.  In economic theory, that import advantage of low cost items should allow the US to employ its manpower and resources in other more valuable products and services, which in turn could be exported yielding even greater profit.

Each of President Trump’s tariff initiatives have been met by an equal and opposite (in value) set of tariffs against US goods humorously made in “red” States.  Soy beans, Bourbon, aircraft, and automobiles have been named as starters.  There is about one more week before these tariffs and counter tariffs take effect.  Presumably this pause should allow for further negotiations.  Which side will blink first?

These Trump Administration’s trade skirmishes could be all about misdirection and diversion of the public’s attention.   But what would be the purpose of misdirection?

How about the Trump Administrations primary focus on 2020 reelection?

Would you think that keeping the “issue of the day” new and different each day be advantageous if an Administration has no strategic goals and clueless about what domestic or foreign issues to tackle.  Hmmm.

Without a doubt, the President’s trade strategy is on course to increase consumer prices (tariffs are taxes ultimately paid for by Americans) and as importantly, will not increase the total number of jobs. Trump’s tariff war is misguided or he has an ulterior motive, or both.  The Trump trade policy, as currently being demonstrated, will result in no successes… at least over the next few years (maybe three).  The tactic of fighting trade on the basis of “east-west”, democratic governments-non-democratic, or strategic versus non-strategic ally is a losing strategy to begin with. 

While any one trade dispute might be legitimate, feuding with friends and foes alike at the same time, effectively neutralizes any legitimacy the US might put forward in dispute negotiations.  Internationally, naked protectionism is the only conclusion a reasonable person can reach.  Domestically, hopelessly inept if viewed in economic terms or calculatingly insincere if viewed politically.

Hmmm.

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Confused? Or Trying To Confuse?

April 4, 2018

President Trump has had quite a week for himself.  He has set off the first skirmish of a potentially harmful trade war.  He has changed his National Security Advisor to a George W Bush “let’s invade Iraq” chicken hawk whose previous positions have been to preemptively strike North Korea and scrap the Iran nuclear agreement.  And today, the President announced the movement of US troops to the Mexican boarder allegedly to keep Mexican immigrants (and drugs) out.  

With trade, the President begins with a reasonable thesis, China has been strong arming Americans companies in order to obtain intellectual property and have been exporting far too much steel on world markets.  This has not been a mystery to previous Administrations but how to curtail China’s behavior has been elusive. 

The President said he would be different and immediately announced large tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, which would include China.  Predictably (history is a good teacher), China retaliated with tariffs on a wide range of politically sensitive US exports and hinted that more could come if the US did not rethink its new tariffs.

Almost coincident with firing HR McMaster as National Security Advisor, President Trump received and accepted an invitation to summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  McMaster’s replacement, John Bolton is a hawk’s hawk.  Do you wonder what type of advice Bolton will give on how President Trump should deal with North Korea? 

Even more curious is what to do about Iran.  Again, President Trump sees Iran correctly in the sense of pursuing its own Middle East agenda.  The President has shaded his views about the Iran Nuclear Agreement from Iran violating the agreement (which Iran has not) to the agreement’s “spirit” (the agreement is about nuclear activity not other matters) claiming Iran is acting poorly and therefore the US should withdraw from the agreement. 

Has the President considered that (1) none of the other signatories to the Iran Nuclear Agreement will withdraw, and (2) simply walking away from the Iran Nuclear Agreement will not be lost on North Korea (or China) as to how much value one should put into any future US agreement.

With respect to Mexico, the President again is correct that some Mexicans and some amount of drugs pass through the US-Mexican boarder.  Most reports, however, indicate the flow of Mexican undocumented immigrants is at very low levels if at all.  And with respect to drugs, there is little indication a wall or a battalion of soldiers will make any difference

So why does the President say the things he does?

There are as many theories to explain the President’s behavior as there are pundits.  No one really knows, that is the President has not explained his motives directly to a confidant.  But one can safely begin by assuming the President is not confused.  President Trump is a 100% “ends justify the means” type of personality.  

For example, today the President jumped again onto Amazon linking Amazon’s use of US Postal Service local delivery as unfair to the Post Office and tax payers.  There is speculation President Trump’s real target is Jeff Bazos, CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post. 

Maybe and in addition, just as possible an explanation for the President claiming a string of clearly untrue charges against Amazon is to distract voters who will soon be feeling the blowback from tariffs, will see the North Korean overtures going astray, will see the US isolated from other world allies over Iran, and see the wastefulness and inadequatecies of using highly trained instruments of war attempting to police the almost 2000 mile Mexican border.

The office of President of the United States has served as an example for all American children that hard work and honesty can serve their lives well and some day they might too become President.  President Trump seems set everyday to darken that image to the point where unlike George Washington who could not tell a lie, future generations might not be able to tell the truth if they follow the President’s habits.

Leading From Behind, II

September 5, 2017

America’s two major political parties have spent the last decade identifying issues which their supporters held sacred and then blaming their political opponents for supposed transgressions, regardless of what was best for our Country. One of the best examples might be Republican’s claims that President Obama was weak on foreign policy and specialized in “leading from behind”. Evidence abounded, Republicans claimed. Look at the Middle East, North Korea, and Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Hmmm.

Hypocrisy overflowed with each criticism of President Obama. It was on Republican President George W Bush watch that Iraq was invaded and occupied and when Afghanistan’s police mission morphed into nation building. And, it was a Republican controlled Congress which refused to vote any authorization for Middle East military action while the world watched Syria melt down.

So, today we have a Republican President and a Republican controlled Congress. What type of global leadership does America present now?

The first statement that can be made is that when foreign affairs is measured in “tweets”, American is in a leading position.

The second statement might be President Trump believes in “strategy-free” foreign affairs. This second statement enables the President to speak sharply about a subject and then undercut his emphasis with a completely unrelated comment whose consequence is to negate any positive effect his first statement might produce. Witness the call for China to help reign in North Korea one moment and then threatening to punish China with trade restrictions.

The President, of course, is trying to have it both ways (delight his supporters with tough talk towards both North Korea and China while blindly thinking tough talk is enough or that China could care the least about North Korean threats towards the US).

The third statement might be the “proof is in the pudding”. Has President Trump succeeded at anything domestically or in foreign policy? Has President Trump or Congress lined up global leaders behind any Trump policies, especially any aimed at making the global community economically stronger and more secure?

Do world leaders think better of President Trump than his predecessor former President Obama?

The world is a very complicated place and the days of US overwhelming economic and military superiority versus the rest of the world is over. Nuclear weapons lie in many different countries’ hands. Developed Countries are wealthy by historic standards. Further, the national interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Europe are not aligned other than to think the US already has too much and they have too little. Hmmm.

President Obama left a legacy which President Trump has worked to negate. President Obama comprehended global events as complicated and complex, and requiring thoughtful, integrated US response.  The Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership were two worthwhile and potentially useful initiatives which worked on real issues while building trust and partnership.

So President Trump’s attacking or walking away from policies which could help bind nations together (or at least keep them from drifting further apart), seems a bit short sighted.

I wonder if President Trump’s “tweet driven” style could be seen as “Leading From Behind, II”.  Do you think it is as thoughtful as former President Obama’s foreign policies?

Getting Respect You Deserve

August 13, 2017

On Facebook, some “friends” of mine like and share right wing posts which usually follow the same design. “DO YOU THINK PRESIDENT TRUMP IS GETTING THE RESPECT HE DESERVES?” The post asked the reader to like and share.  This is a question, however, that is difficult to answer.

This past week our President tossed out one after another totally unpresidential and irresponsible epitaphs aimed at North Korea. “Fire and Fury” and “Locked and Loaded” make absolutely no sense in a diplomatic environment and almost assuredly will have little or no impact upon North Korea.  This type of rhetoric is just as opaque to our allies and adversaries.

Trump’s aggressive words, in this case, appear aimed not at North Korea but more likely at his domestic political base. Your President is no whip!

President Trump, a Vietnam service avoider, like the George W Bush and his cabinet, speak tough but their words are about sending other people’s children into harms way. And you can probably bet your house that most Trump friendly groups who adore the President will not be volunteering for the military anytime soon.

White House spinners suggested that President Trump’s message was aimed at China, directly encouraging them to solve the North Korean problem. After a few days, China issued a smart message. China said it would not support North Korea if they provoked the US. China would, however, support North Korea if the US preemptively attacked North Korea.

And in a few words, China flushed the Trump rhetoric down the drain.

Over the weekend, more of President Trump’s chickens came home to roost. In Charlottesville, Virginia, a white supremacy demonstration ended in chaos and violence as pro and anti groups predictably clashed. As the dust settled, President Trump spoke denouncing violence but not white supremacy. The Trumpster decried violence by both sides in this matter.

So to the over arching question, is President Trump receiving the respect he deserves, one must say the President is receiving at least as much as he deserves and maybe more.

White Knuckles

July 31, 2017

There appears to be a collective “oh sh*t” coming from US intelligentsia. It has taken a full six months for think tank members along with other thoughtful Americans to grasp how far out on the branch of sound governance the US has crawled. What do you think of our President now?

Conservative and right of center thinkers have cut President Trump all sorts of breaks. “He’s new at this”. “His staff is not helping”. And who can forget the wounds inflicted by “fake news”. No wonder the world seems muddled when the US ship of State has no rudder.

The think tank world makes its living from keeping an eye on the four corners of the globe.

  • Russia has concluded good times are not coming from the Trump Administration despite what his campaign rhetoric and it is time to get back to business intimidating Easter Europe and opposing US goals in North Korea and Syria.
  • China similarly has concluded President Trump is a paper threat towards their US trade. China reasons their long term interest in being the supreme power in Southeast Asia is theirs for the taking.
  • The Muslim world (lead by the twin dysfunctionals, Iran and Saudi Arabia) has concluded the US is over stretched and therefore they are content to ply the suicidal path of nuclear armaments. (Allah would have wanted that.)
  • And the motley collection of third world countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, most of Africa, and Venezuela, plod along with little recognition how close they are to a failed nation.

The conservative intellectuals also know how leaderless the US current is. Republicans have practiced governance tactics which have lead at best to gridlock and when not gridlocked, to destructive, wrong side of history policies.

Time for a tax cut anyone? Or how about more denial of global warming or the need for 21st century trade practices with both Asia and Europe? And where in the world of international disorder should Mexico stand? Does Mexico rank up there with North Korea, Iran, Russia or China?

President Trump has selected a new chief of staff, a new “silver bullet” so to speak. The conservative intelligentsia know that while General Kelly is a good man and competent choice, there is no reason to expect General Kelly can fix the lack of direction or find the soul of domestic policy. On both scores, there simply is none.

Former President Obama was frequently criticized for “leading from behind”. But few honest brokers could allege President Obama did not understand the world and various global forces at play. President Obama also understood that he would be out on the limb alone because the Republican side in Congress was out to undercut him at every step.

Real thinkers in American think tanks are becoming “white knuckled” as they begin to realize the Commander in Chief has no comprehensive understanding of foreign policy issues and has little interest in listening to anyone who might know.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems a very capable executive but has no background in foreign policy. His professed loyalty to President Trump is very worrisome since the President has no idea of what to do.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Maddis is by far the sharpest knife in the draw and that in and of itself is a long term danger. The US democracy has long been the domain of civilians with military actions executed by military professionals. Where are the foreign policy civilian experts?

General Kelly has a narrow set of options. Hopefully he will find clear thinking experts whose advice he can preferential route to President Trump. General Kelly must at the same time thwart the access of the one dimensional thinkers and former campaign aides who seek to curry President Trump’s favors.

It’s white knuckle time.

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?

Hmmm.

This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.

Trump Meets China

April 2, 2017

President Trump will meet President Xi next week at Mar A Lago, the Florida White House. There will be no loss for topics both sides wish to discuss but almost assuredly the two lists will not include the same items. Maybe they will alternate. Hmmm.

President Trump seems set upon trade issues and steering the “free trade” towards “fair trade”. While this is a worthy objective (assuming that the President was at all interested in anything other than politics, like satisfying 2020 campaign bench marks), free and fair trade are very complex issues. What is fair to one side may be quite the opposite to the other side.

Most likely the upcoming visit will conclude with more of the phrases we have gotten use to… “Two nations pledge to work together on areas of mutual interest…” Hmmm.

China represents a clear picture of globalization and what outsourcing looks like.  Globalization has brought blessings and cruel dislocations in the same breath.

In the 80’s China began to stir. Adopting a more cooperative and welcoming attitude, China invited a few Western companies into their midst assigning them preferential business licenses. China provided space, people, and infrastructure support. The incoming companies provided manufacturing know-how and the promise of large markets overseas. Most of these new comers were American companies and with them came “outsourced” American manufacturing jobs.

On a macro scale, this arrangement seemed ordained in heaven. China got steady work for its peasant class, thereby raising the “lucky” peasant’s standard of living. With increasing volume, China (the Government) got hard currency generated by the sale of goods overseas.  And, of course, a lot of wealthy Chinese became even wealthier.

For the job exporting country (for example, the US), companies were able to offer for sale goods which cost considerably less than if had manufactured these goods been manufactured using American labor. This translated into lower selling prices, greater profits, or both.

For America (the Government), inflation slowed to a crawl. For American businesses, the way was clear to hold down wage and salary increases (because there was no upward inflation pressure).   And even better, the increased productivity could go in greater proportions to top executives and share holders. Hmmm.

So when we hear rhetoric promising to bring back to America manufacturing jobs, one must realize that the “forced” repatriated jobs will drive up the prices Americans pay (this is called inflation).  Worse, there is no reason to believe the returned jobs will pay anything more than minimum wages.  Hmmm.

There is nothing wrong with more jobs for Americans and if free enterprise were alive and well, the shift of jobs from China to the US would be cost/quality driven. (Most Americans would reject more expensive or lower quality goods.)

I wonder whether the Trump Administration will think about closing the barn door, once the lost jobs are back in the barn. Europe deals with “fleeing jobs” by making it costly for companies to simply lay people off.

Hmmm, maybe not.