Both Trump and the EU are turning on China for very similar reasons but with different timescales ahead of them. The West still struggles with what it requires from China and whether it wants to get rich and become a big spender, or become poorer and flood western markets with cheaper and cheaper goods. Expect more devaluation of the Yuan.
EU is “rebalancing this relationship” with China. EU ambassador to the UK João Vale de Almeida tells Chatham House. It’s not about “isolating” or “ganging up” on China, but it’s about addressing issues. We have different systems of values on human rights and other areas”.
A pretty remarkable statement to make and one which could only have come from a relatively obscure EU official, if it was based on solid support from the highest echelons of the EU in Brussels – who, in turn, would not go ahead with such a bellicose policy if they didn’t have the gilt-edged backing from France and Germany.
So, in a matter of weeks, where the EU was caught red-handed redacting its own internal report which slammed China over its COVID-19 role – and media coverage – now, we seem to be in the midst of the EU waking up to its own economy imploding and a political calamity to follow which could be the end of the EU as we know it.
The EU is starting to think about protectionism and is about to develop a new relation with China, which, we should assume means cutting less slack to Beijing on its goods, by jacking up tariffs.
In the U.S., analysts are also saying that the U.S.-China trade deal is dead in the water, chiefly due to corona crashing world oil prices, which knocked a big hold in the first phase of Trump’s deal which involved China buying huge chunks of oil and gas from the U.S. at higher prices. In reality, for most of this year China’s energy needs have also been dramatically reduced due to chaos and lockdowns which are corona-related. Trump got the first phase off to a good start by forcing China’s hand on agricultural goods which were floundering in many states which supported Trump, but the ‘art of the deal’ U.S. president is actually not very good at doing trade deals. The essence of a trade deal is its rigidity and sustainability. Trump’s barely lasted weeks. Foreign Policy, the high-brow international politics magazine, put it aptly.
“Amid the collapse in oil demand and prices unleashed by the pandemic, it is now all but certain that China will fail to meet its targets for energy purchases and expose the folly of Trump’s trade strategy” it says. “While Trump was right to address China’s problematic trade practices, the administration’s approach made little sense before the pandemic—and makes even less sense now”.
And many might argue that Trump’s determination to get a trade deal with China which helped blue collar families back home, was all about getting re-elected anyway, according to John Bolton’s bombshell book which reveals that the U.S. president right from the off was positioning the Chinese premier to help him (Trump) get re-elected. Trump believed all he needed to nail a second victory was a deal with China. Remarkable.
The toughening of both rhetoric and action now from Trump as the deal falls apart was inevitable. Almost like a petulant child, as it becomes clear that Beijing can’t keep its side of the bargain, Trump goes into self-preservation mode to deflect blame. Barely within a heartbeat, U.S. media announces news of sanctions against China on its reported concentration camps against Muslim groups, which, according to Bolton, he had secretly supported all along with Xi, which the former National Security chief claims was the “right thing to do” according to Trump.
Within seconds, almost, it’s as though if China cannot serve Trump with his specific needs, then it has to become and enemy to at least generate the requisite media traffic which continues to get Trump on the front pages. And this is what is playing out now. Already Beijing sees the game and is ready to play that role.
“We again urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop using this Xinjiang-related law to harm China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Otherwise China will resolutely take countermeasures, and all the consequences arising there from must be fully borne by the United States.”
That sounded like a pretty lucid threat from China. Remarkably, Trump, despite the losses to business and the crippling effect on U.S. companies in China, is happy to get tough with China. There is, in fact, no limit in what he can do to get re-elected – even make friends with the Taliban, if that’s what it takes.
More remarkable is that the EU seems to be following his lead with their rationale why they should be tougher on China. Its own political survival beyond the next European elections in 2024.
With the catastrophic impact on the EU economy, many member states – not only Italy and Spain which were hit particularly hard – themselves are going to have to make tough decisions which resonate with angry voters over how to hold China accountable for the pandemic. The EU will be forced to follow this trend for its own survival as, for those member states where the political establishment save their own seats, scapegoats will be required. The Blame Game will make losers of the EU and its delusional ideas of being a super power.
Some political elites will blame Brussels and will have some success with this. And it’s as though EU chiefs are already ahead of the game, if one of its “ambassadors” in London can openly make a comment to the press which talks about a new relationship with China. Xi and his ministers will patiently wait for Trump to fall on his own sword in November, as the scandal mounts up and the pressure on the Republican party reaches fever pitch. For the EU though, there is a longer game at play, with higher stakes. But will Brussels make it to 2024 though?