May 19, 2020
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President Donald Trump made one of his most provocative comments on China yet on May 14 in an interview with Fox Business News, suggesting that he might consider “cutting off the whole relationship” with China. He added, “You’d save $500 billion if you cut off the whole relationship.”
That President Trump would publicly muse that “cutting off the whole relationship” with China represents a viable and possibly desirable US approach to dealing with China – and that if the US were to do this, it would “save $500 billion” – is remarkable and telling.
It is reflective of the rhetorical “race to the bottom” we now see in this country, particularly within the Republican Party, in which a growing number of US political figures are seemingly seeking to out-compete each other in terms of how tough they can be, in both rhetoric and proposed policy and legislation, toward China.
Derecognition – if that is what President Trump means – would put the People’s Republic of China, and the world’s second-largest economy, into the same category, relative to the status of diplomatic relations with the US, as Iran, Syria and North Korea, for example; These are countries whose relations with the US are characterized by deep-seated and protracted animosity bordering on (and in the case of North Korea, including) an actual state of war. Even by the standards of the latest China-focused rhetoric coming out of today’s Trump-dominated Republican Party, the president’s comment certainly marks a troubling new low. And I suspect the rhetoric will become even more extreme over the coming weeks and months.
If Trump’s comment refers to the trade relationship (as opposed to the entire diplomatic relationship), then it is also very telling, because it provides yet another window into how this president construes trade with China, and trade generally. In short, Trump regards US imports from China, and presumably other countries, as tantamount to a “theft” (a term President Trump himself has used in this context) of US wealth on the part of those trading partners. And thus, by “cutting off the whole relationship” – by which perhaps he means, the whole US-China trade relationship – the US can “save $500 billion.” The “$500 billion” to which Trump refers is, in his mind, the size of the US deficit with China; of course, that is not and never has been the official US figure, but it is the figure he has repeatedly invoked for the last five years signifying what he, in his particular “reality,” understands the size of the US deficit to be. Or, it may be that what Trump actually means by the term “$500 billion” is the approximate volume of goods the US imports from China on an annual basis; and if so, that would be a somewhat more accurate use of the term, “$500 billion.”
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui based on an interview with David Firestein, president and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations.