Getting to the Point: Why is Trump unlikely to hold back his tariff stick?

CGTN Published: 2018-08-10 16:35:57
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By CGTN Anchor Liu Xin

On Wednesday, the US trade representative followed through with higher tariffs on another 16 billion US dollars' worth of Chinese goods. So despite the efforts by all those who oppose the trade war, the train keeps chugging in the same direction.

I wonder, why is the Trump administration so adamant or wayward in carrying out a policy that’s clearly built on exaggerated or downright false information?

I am not saying China has been absolutely innocent in the whole thing. We can lower our tariffs more and faster.

There should have been more policies to level the playing field for domestic and foreign enterprises, and the pace of implementation should have been faster, etc.

However, the Trump administration have blown things out of proportion and even flipped facts into total falsehoods.

For instance, take the trade deficit issue, which has been the centerpiece of President Trump’s victimization efforts.

The amount of the deficit itself has been evasive and changing, maybe according to his mood. When he feels better, he makes it smaller, around 370 billion dollars. When he is more agitated, it can be 500 billion dollars. But the actual number is much smaller at around 270 billion dollars, according to the Chinese side, at best contested by both sides.

But you never hear from him that there could be some controversy here. It has to be huge, as it’s the starting point of his tariffs agenda. But it’s simply not so simple!

Now his claims that the World Trade Organization has been very unfair to the US? Bogus. Fact is that the US has won the great majority of cases it launched there. That China has been stealing US jobs? US multinationals and automation stole these jobs! That China has been forcing US companies to transfer technologies? A recent AmCham Shanghai report shows the majority of American businesses do not feel such pressure. The list goes on.

Now here is the question. When so many of President Trump’s complaints about China are based on shaky ground, and given that, according to recent polls, the majority of Americans oppose trade tariffs, why is his approval rating so high? In other words, why is he emboldened to keep gambling with such a controversial policy?

This is the question that truly baffles me and indeed many here in China. The Chinese authorities have accused the Trump administration of losing their collective mind. From their point of view, it’s dangerous to make misinformed decisions.

Clearly, President Trump knows what his voters want him to do: to appear tough on China and to appear to be doing something to bring back jobs. What really happens can wait, however, till after the mid-term elections and whatever other elections he has to win.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with state leaders about prison reform, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.[Photo: IC]

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with state leaders about prison reform, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.[Photo: IC]

Basically, campaigning is his main job, other than governing the country. But why are people ready to vote for him if many of the things he says are simply lies? Are they all dumb?

Well, I came across a study by the evolutionary anthropologist Professor Daniel Fessler who shows that right-wing conservatives can be more susceptible than liberals to threats, even if they are false. Meaning, if a conservative sees a road sign saying “danger,” he or she is more likely to believe there is real danger.

A liberal, however, is less likely to believe so right away. Not because they are smarter, but because they are more likely to go and check whether there is real danger, whereas the conservatives in general lack the motivation to do so.

That explains, in part, why President Trump’s China bashing works for many Americans. Because his audience, many of them you see behind him on TV when he makes a speech, are ready to applaud him, even when he backs a candidate basically accused of pedophilia.

China-bashing is nothing compared to that. They will cheer, as long as what President Trump says is music to their ears, for the moment.

Research by other scholars has also reached similar conclusions. Professor of Psychology John Ehrenreich from the State University of New York pointed out that conservatives are more likely to believe in authority, whatever the authority figure says.

The loved and hated comedian Sasha Baron Cohen has proved to what extent this can be the case in his new comic series "Who is America?". When a state lawmaker drops his pants in front of the camera and wags his butt against his supposed enemy, you have to ask yourself, are these the people who are making laws for America? Are these the people who voted for Trump and continue to support his policy, whatever he says?

I hope not! But I can only hope so. And actually, when I see the reality, I am a little bit less hopeful. Because another part of my above-mentioned studies also found conservatives are more likely to only listen to what they like to listen to, without challenging their long-held beliefs. They are watching Fox and reading President Trump’s tweets, and nothing much else.

Having said those, I must add that in the United States, there is a general lack of understanding about China and the motivation to find out about it. This deficit in understanding, in my eyes, is what’s really fueling the hype against deficit in trade.

Given such circumstances, it is unlikely that sense will be restored soon to US policymaking, with regards to China or to any other country in the world, for that matter.

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.