Posted tagged ‘China’

The World Around Us

September 3, 2019

Say what you will but one must give credit where credit is due.  President Trump has sucked all the air out of “world awareness news”.  Whether it is just one more mistruth or stinging slanderous verbal attack, President Trump is aiming for the news cycle’s center of attention.  And there seems to be no depth Trump is not willing to descend in order to be the lead story at 6 pm.

What about 

  • Brexit – With the United Kingdom poised to withdraw from the European Union without any negotiated terms, America’s “special relationship ally” is headed down a dangerous path based solely upon political misinformation.  British voters heard politicians remind them of the woes associated with free movement of labor where Eastern European laborers, willing to work for low wages, were pushing out UK workers.  “Don’t you want your sovereignty back”, asked the politicians.  British citizens voted in favor of Brexit in a referendum partially on promises of a brighter day tomorrow and no problems with the “Brexit” itself.  Pundits tell us “sunshine and no problems” was never true and voters were misled.

Of course, British citizens have the right to decide for their future and Brexit or no Brexit is a British choice.  What is important to Americans is the precedent where use of a referendum fueled by misinformation and no route to revisit the referendum vote is an abdication of responsible governance.  In the age of mis-information, Americans should recognize how fragile democracy can be and from history, once democracy is taken away, what an ugly path authoritarianism can be.

  • Burning of the Rain Forest – Brazil’s hinterlands are a world wonder.  According to environmentalists Brazil’s rain forest sucks up CO2 and pumps out O2 helping to offset the developed world’s production of global warming gases.  Recently when pictures emerged (even from space) of large Amazon Rain Forest parcels ablaze, the world (not necessarily the US) took notice.

The fires were not an accident of nature but rather the purposeful intent of local farmers to increase the area of land available for raising cattle.  Free enterprise at work.  What basis does the rest of the world have to deny Brazilians the right to pursue their own future?

The world has no right to deny Brazil its chance to develop its economy.  If keeping the rain forest green is important for global warming reasons, the developed world needs to offer trading opportunities that make it preferable for Brazil to keep the Rain Forests green.

To draw a line under the irony of Brazil raising cattle, is reportedly the new customers were from China!  Why is China not a potentially good customer for US farmers.  Hmmm.  

  • North Korea – When President Trump broke with past precedents and agreed to meet with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Un, the President signal that making a deal and using personal diplomacy were his specialty.  Our President pointed out that in only a short time he had done more than any President before him.  Now two years later, how do things stand?

The recent picture of Chaiman Kim standing beside a submarine thought capable of firing a nuclear tipped missile off the US shores captures the notion of what happens when one pokes a bees nest with a stick and then walks away.  Our President has no way to put the North Korean behavior back in a box especially since neighbors China and Russia are at odds with President Trump and US Foreign Policy.  North Korea seems determined to follow a nuclear course of their own.  Americans are getting a reminder that good relations builds coalitions which in turn present a united front towards countries which disagreeable policies.

  • Japan-South Korea – Two US allies have descended into a tit for tat, destructive foreign policy with respect to each other.  The basis for Japan and South Korea’s quarrels is routed in history with Japan’s occupation of Korea during WWII as the most recent reminder.  The US has the credentials to remind both countries that there are bigger adversaries than each other.  But with an “America First” policy, the Trump White House is blind to the cracks forming in our Pacific defense wall.  Hmmm.

 

  • India-Pakistan – “The little old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children, she did not know what to do”.  Little old ladies, India and Pakistan fit this fable to a Tee.  But add to this children’s story that these old ladies have nuclear weapons and have been ready in the past to attack each other, there should be genuine worry in the White House about keeping the peace.

What me worry(?), says Alfred E Trump. 

President Trump acts as if those 2 billion plus countries were like Australia and New Zealand.  No problems there.

  • Middle East – Probably no place else in the world has the Trump doctrine been more poisonous.  Give the Israeli and Saudi Arabian governments what ever they seek and the Middle East will take care of itself.  This attitude certainly clears the calendar to allow for more golf but like giving candy to a baby, Israel and Saudi Arabia will misuse whatever the Trump White House gives.  Even if one thinks that Israel and Saudi Arabia will act as surrogates to contain Iran, the three countries shackled by theocracy and selfish objectives can open more cans of worms before the tweeting President can retweet.

 

  • China – Most Americans still think of China as a back water country with “coolie-like peasants running around” keeping busy.  Wrong.  China has burst into the 21st century with tall buildings, high speed trains, and economy second only to the US.  The Chinese political system is built around one party.  Who ever controls the Communist party controls China, and the Communist party membership realizes that their individual good lives rests upon the Communist Party remaining in charge.  Chairman Xi knows that economic stability is key to keeping the masses placated.  Over twenty years of double digit growth has satisfied much but not all China’s population so Xi is aware of keeping the image of a strong, growing, and peaceful China before his citizens.  

China has a long history and expectation that life presents surprises but real change takes a long time. Xi is not fooled by President Trump.  Quick “tariffs fights” are not going to happen and worse, during these trade wars, China will see little reason to cooperate with US wishes.  Hmmm.

  • Russia – Although the Russian economy is small compared to the US, the EU, or China, Russia’s nuclear weapons make Russia a player.  The Communist Party rule, as with China, insulates President Putin from normal political pressure.  Accordingly, Russian foreign policy is geared to what’s good maintaining the Party and indirectly what’s good for enriching Putin.

With Russia’s fingers in the Middle East, coveting former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, and a supposed ally of North Korea, US Russian foreign policy must be thoughtfully constructed and executed.  Not President Trump’s long suite?

President Trump is simply unqualified to lead the US in a world as complicated and intertwined as we find today.  Despite the President’s insistence that he, Donald Trump, is the smartest person in the room, the facts speak otherwise.  The 35% Trump supporters probably do not need to think further about this matter.  For the rest of us, we should realize that the next President’s most pressing task will be to provide leadership that will bring sensibility back to our allies, and to appoint qualified Americans to rebuild our domestic institutions.  The 2020 election cannot come soon enough.

The Wrong End Of The Hammer

November 21, 2018

The Trump Administration is twisting and turning trying to make America Great Again.  Tariffs and new Trade Agreements seem to be the tools of choice aimed at making things happen.  I wonder why neither tariffs or one sided, imposed trade agreements have not worked yet and why they should not be expected to work in the near future?

Trade Agreements openly negotiated combined with judicious use of tariffs where the situation demands have been key tools of international trade for over 100 years.  What makes these tools inappropriate today?

Nothing, except tariffs and trade agreements are injudiciously applied.

Managing international trade, somewhat like using a hammer, can have beneficial results if the hammer is used purposefully, and unsatisfactory, if not disastrous consequences if used incorrectly.  The Trump Administration “thinkers”, in keeping with the President’s “bully” preferred approach, decided to levy massive tariffs unilaterally on steel and aluminum imports.  The President claimed “national security” (that these materials were essential to the US national defense and as such the US needed healthy steel and aluminum industries).  

The “national defense”assertion was incorrect and laughingly irrelevant, but it serves little purpose to re-litigate this position. The Administration’s strategy was (and is) to claim something, impose a tariff, and then negotiate an agreement more friendly to America.  

International trade, in the ideal circumstance, involves anyone any where in the world buying or selling products or services from anyone or any place in the world.  The purchase price should reflect the seller’s selling price plus applicable taxes and shipping costs.  

Life, however, is not that simple.  Most countries might wish to protect certain products or industries and provide “subsidies” to those chosen products or industries.  These subsidies make these products and services less expensive than those same products or services produced by other countries.  So “country A” might impose a tariff on imports originating in “country B” claiming “country B” was in effect taking unfair advantage of “country A”.

The quarrel with China is different.  American companies discovered that China could produce goods at significantly lower costs and at the same or superior quality than the exact same product made in the US.  This simple discovery morphed into “outsourcing”, and in a few years lead to a huge trade deficit (China bought less from the US than the US bought from China).   

Today one goes to Pottery Barn, or Crate and Barrel or Macy’s and buys chairs, tables, underwear and guess what, the chances are near certain that these goods were made in China to Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel or Macy’s specifications. In essence, US companies are driving imports from China.

On the flip side, China buys Boeing Aircraft or Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon but those products are made to Boeing or Grgich Hills design and specification.  Chinese consumers buy these American products because they are superior to similar products available in China.  

In the classic international trade dispute, China might want to develop its own aircraft industry or wine industry and seek to depress the availability of US products.  Tariffs, which make the price of imported goods more expensive, are the tool of choice.

The Trump’s Administrations policy is to make Chinese (and later European) goods more expensive when bought by US consumers.  Hmmm.  If US manufacturers knew how to make chairs, tables, dresses, and underwear less expensively, wouldn’t US companies already have done that?  An even greater irony is that most every thing the US now imports from China could be imported from other low labor cost countries such as Viet Nam, Cambodia, Jordan, or Egypt.

So, what do you think Wall Street thinks about this?  Do investors see Americans, after more rounds of tariffs, as having more money in their pockets and able to buy even more US products and services?  I think not.

It is time to put the hammer away.

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.

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.