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The US face-off with China and Russia comes at a time Beijing and Moscow say they are in the best phase of their own bilateral relationship.
On Friday, President Trump ordered his chief trade negotiator to consider imposing tariffs on an additional $ 100 billion in Chinese exports to the US, after his punitive measures on the first $ 50 billion elicited a retaliatory smackdown from Beijing on US exports to China. The Chinese response, accompanied by a ‘we are ready for a showdown’ challenge, sent the US market, lawmakers, and the country’s farmers (who export massive amounts of farm produce to China) into a panic, but he US President was unfazed.
“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” Trump said in a statement Thursday evening, cranking up pressure on China. “We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war… If the United States insists on unilateralism and trade protectionism, the Chinese side will follow suit and fight at any cost,” the Chinese commerce ministry responded.
Targeted for tariffs by the US are some 1300 items ranging from Chinese steel and aluminum to huge amounts of consumer goods that Americans buy on the cheap at superstores such as WalMart. China in turn had threatened to impose punitive duties on everything from American automobiles and jet planes to grains, soy, nuts, and wines, all of which will pinch the American farmers and industry.
Amid this looming trade war with China, the Trump administration on Friday also announced it is sanctioning seven Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin along with 12 companies they own or control, although the President did not directly get his fingers into this issue unlike in the spat with China, instead leaving it to his Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to do the job.
“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” Mnuchin said in a statement, citing Russia’s occupation in Crimea and its ongoing efforts to supply the Assad regime in Syria with materials and weapons among reasons for the sanctions while blithely understating Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S Presidential elections.
Trump meanwhile continued to focus on China. “We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the US. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!” he tweeted on Thursday as the rhetoric overheated.
Beijing retaliation against the US farm sector had the desired effect, with lawmakers representing parts of the country that voted heavily for Trump, panicking as their constituents worried about the future with a constricted Chinese market. Tweeting that the president is “threatening to light American agriculture on fire,” Nebraska’s senator Ben Sasse fumed, “Hopefully the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts.”
Experts surmised that particularly in the case of China, Trump was simply raising the pressure in a high stakes gamble that will eventually result in an agreement for a man who prides himself on having mastered the “art of the deal.” Trump maintains that the US. is not starting a ‘trade war’ but believes America would win one if it takes hold. He feels China needs the US market as much as, if not more, than the US needs the Chinese.