US president-elect Donald J. Trump spent a lot of time on the campaign trail promising to make China suffer for taking American jobs, complaining about China’s “currency manipulation,” and pledging to raise tariffs on Chinese goods. While economists have dismissed some of these ideas as far-fetched or misguided, they resonated with US voters where manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for decades.
Many of Trump rhetoric appears to have been inspired by University of California Irvine Professor Peter Navarro, one of Trump’s advisors during his campaign, the author of the campaign’s economic plan, and a hard-line critic of China on trade and defense. Navarro’s 2011 book “Death by China” outlines his theory of the threat China poses to the US and other countries, and Trump’s words hew closely to it. Navarro, who has been called Trump’s “muse” on China, doesn’t have any definite position yet in the Trump cabinet, but is on the short list of potential Asia advisors.
Navarro wants to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US and, like Trump, spares no mercy for American corporations or politicians, declaring them implicit in allowing China rise in power at the expense of the US.
Over the past decade, however, as each additional American job and American factory has been off-shored to China, the narrow profit-maximizing interests of many of America’s corporate executives have been realigned with their Chinese partners. Indeed, with their bread now being buttered offshore, so-called “American” organizations like the Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers transformed from staunch critics of Chinese mercantilism into open, and often very aggressive, soldiers in the pro-China Lobby.
Navarro opens his book lamenting how China’s rise in manufacturing has not only come at the expense of American jobs, but American’s health. He devotes substantial attention to food and product safety issues that arise due to greed and shoddy regulatory oversight, referring to malicious actors who deliberately cut corners as “black hearts,” borrowing a Chinese expression.
In fact, China’s own regulators have found such abominations as hot pot soups “seasoned” with formaldehyde to improve taste and soy sauce spiked with hydrochloric acid and human hair to boost amino acid levels. The Chinese black hearts have even added the highly toxic pesticide dichlorvos to make the humble sausage “deliciously” deadly. Just remember these little tidbits the next time you think about eating anything “Made in China.”
Later, Navarro accuses China of devaluing its currency to make its exports more competitive—something Beijing has done in the past, but largely abandoned starting in 2009. At one point, he uses pointed sarcasm to illustrate what he views as the Beijing regime’s blatant dishonesty.
Consider, for example, this incredulous response from Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to pressure from other members of the G-20 to revalue. Said Wen: “First of all, I do not think the [yuan] is undervalued.” Right, Mr. Wen, and the air is clean in Beijing, Tibetans love being part of China, the people speak freely in Shanghai, and your lunar space probe has shown the moon is made of cheese.
Navarro also lashes out at China for what he perceives as an attempt to colonize countries in Latin America in Africa by offering them loans to build infrastructure and harvest natural resources, while sharing none of the wealth and labor with local populations. When discussing China in Africa, he argues China’s Communist Party is using its economic outreach to ease overpopulation:
And here’s the biggest dirty little secret about China’s colonial ambitions. While locking down natural resources and locking up new markets are the primary strategic goals, Beijing’s central planners also want to systemically export millions of Chinese citizens to the “satellite states” of Africa and Latin America to reduce pressures on a grossly overpopulated homeland.
Navarro suggests that China’s military buildup will eventually lead to dominance “across the globe.” On its Navy, he writes:
While China’s army personifies brute force and its air force has the best flying machines it can buy or steal, China’s naval buildup ultimately is the most unsettling to Pentagon analysts. Indeed, the People’s Republic is moving forward at Manhattan Project speed to develop a blue water Navy capable of challenging the U.S. Navy. Its first goal is to push U.S. aircraft carrier fleets out of the Western Pacific—and perhaps finally take Taiwan—and then ultimately project hard power across the globe.
Navarro’s solution for curbing China includes completely upending the status quo on trade, which includes the US and other nations forcing China to stop manipulating its currency, improve health and environmental standards, and allow equal access to its domestic markets. He proposes a broad bill to cover all this.
The simplest and most effective legislative cure for China’s mercantalist and protectionist ways—and one that avoids direct confrontation because it need not mention China directly by name—is for Congress to pass the “American Free and Fair Trade Act.” This Act would set out the following ground rules—with appropriately tough sanctions for failing to play by them. Any nation wishing to trade freely in manufactured goods with the United States must abandon all illegal export subsidies, maintain a fairly valued currency, offer strict protections for intellectual property, uphold environmental and health and safety standards that meet international norms, provide for an unrestricted global market in energy and raw materials, and offer free and open access to its domestic markets, including media and Internet services.
Heavy tariffs on Chinese goods will be used “not as an end game but rather as a negotiating tool to encourage our trading partners to cease cheating,” he says in a white paper he co-authored for the Trump campaign.
Navarro is also an advocate for greater engagement with Taiwan—a rare quality among elite American politicians (Marco Rubio is an exception), due to fear of Chinese retaliation. In an op-ed for National interest, Navarro stops short of supporting diplomatic recognition of Taiwan’s statehood. But he encourages greater military and political engagement with Taiwan, viewing the island as helpful curbing China’s expansion.
At the end of the time, it’s time for America to fully and firmly recommit to an island that is indeed both a beacon of democracy and critical to the U.S. defense strategy in Asia. The chessboard is now clear on the matter of the dangers posed to the region by a rising China, and we need to stop sacrificing friends like Taiwan to placate what is increasingly morphing from a trading partner and strategic rival into a hostile enemy.
Navarro also proposes additional non-economic measures to compete against China, including “secret emissary missions” and broadcasting Voice of America across the country. At one point in his book, he urges the United States to claim the moon as its own territory, lest it get beat to the punch.
The fact is, we have to anticipate that China is going to start snapping up space resources exactly the way it is carving out the whole South China Sea as a sphere of influence and claiming resource-rich Japanese territorial waters as an exclusive Chinese domain. That’s why the United States must start laying claim to valuable space resources like the moon while we still have a strong position to do so. We must also start laying out our claims to resource-rich asteroids like Eros and the potentially colonizable spots like Ceres, Mars, and the Lagrange points.
China has often viewed Trump opponent Hillary Clinton with fear, while seeing Trump more as comic relief. But as Navarro’s words show, a Trump administration might be even tougher on China than Clinton would have been.