During a lengthy press conference alongside Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the Trump White House for taking a “revisionist” and undiplomatic approach to geopolitics. Lavrov stated that this “kind of revisionism demonstrates that they are increasingly willing to be more and more unilateral in international affairs, unlike the Obama administration. This is not helping…it undermines and devalues diplomacy”. He further stated, “They (the Trump White House) have demands but unwilling to negotiate. The United States doesn’t listen to the other side…this is not diplomacy”.
This is one of the first instances where Lavrov has negatively compared the Trump White House to that of Barack Obama. Such a remark is significant due to the fact that under Obama, tensions between Washington and Moscow reached their highest levels since the zenith of the Cold War. Clearly, Russia is even less amused with Trump’s willingness to disregard both stable policies and normal protocol than they were with Obama’s clearly hostile attitude and geopolitical decision making.
Hours later, the fact that Lavrov made these remarks while next to Wang Yi became all the more weighty as Trump criticised China for the fact that it will not lay down its ‘economic arms’ in a US trade war. This patronising and arrogant attitude was laid bear in the following official White House statement, offered in response to China passing $50 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs on US imports:
“Following a thorough investigation under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) determined that China has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain Americas intellectual property. The practices detailed in the USTRs investigation have caused concern around the world. Chinas illicit trade practices ignored for years by Washington have destroyed thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs. On April 3, 2018, the USTR announced approximately $50 billion in proposed tariffs on imports from China as an initial means to obtain the elimination of policies and practices identified in the investigation.
Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers. In light of Chinas unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate under section 301 and, if so, to identify the products upon which to impose such tariffs. I have also instructed the Secretary of Agriculture, with the support of other members of my Cabinet, to use his broad authority to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests.
Notwithstanding these actions, the United States is still prepared to have discussions in further support of our commitment to achieving free, fair, and reciprocal trade and to protect the technology and intellectual property of American companies and American people. Trade barriers must be taken down to enhance economic growth in America and around the world. I am committed to enabling American companies and workers to compete on a level playing field around the world, and I will never allow unfair trade practices to undermine American interests”.
The sheer arrogance and childish mentality behind this statement is perfectly clear. Trump somehow feels that China should discard its interests, its sovereign policy making, its dignity and its rights under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) because the US President is upset with the fact that Chinese goods sell in significant numbers on the open market.
Trump has completely failed to understand that the entire reason a trade war has broken out is because the US has done the commercial equivalent of ‘shooting first and asking questions later’. While China has always complied with WTO rules in respect of its trading relationship with the US, Beijing officials had previously stated that they are open to further discussions about amending their trading relationship with Washington in order to reach a win-win outcome for both sides. Instead of taking China up on this offer, Trump proceeded to slap tariffs on Chinese imports without any negotiations. More insultingly, Trump stated that countries like China would be “grateful” for this because they were “taking advantage” of the US for a long time.
Perhaps Trump is simply too inexperienced and therefore too ignorant to understand how insulting such statements are to countries that have worked tirelessly to create and sustain strong economies. Far from “taking advantage” of the US, China has worked to transform a poor agrarian economy that existed as recently as the late 1970s into a global industrial and innovation powerhouse that it is today. This was not achieved through taking advantage of anyone, but was achieved through incredibly hard work at all levels of Chinese society.
Donald Trump must understand that when a strong and dignified nation is attacked in an unprovoked trade war, such a country will fight back. The same would be true if such a strong and dignified nation was attacked in a military war. Yet far from wanting such wars, China sought to avoid the current trade war. Whether in trade or in conquest, the US always seems to prefer war to negotiations, while the vast majority of the world prefers the opposite approach.
The US must learn that one cannot bully other countries without suffering the consequences. Because Trump launched a trade war with China without taking Chinese officials up on their offer to discuss matters regarding trade in good faith, the US economy will now begin to suffer in the trade war that only Trump can get himself out of. He was warned by leading American economists, the US Chamber of Commerce and most Congressmen on Capitol Hill, but he did not listen. Now the stock markets are down, the US Dollar will continue to suffer, jobs in the US will contract, prices for American consumers will rise and America’s collective purchasing power will decline. All of this comes from a US President who claimed business and economics was his strong point.
Trump msut realise that for consumers a tariffs is just another form of taxation and a regressive one at that. He should also learn that from a geopolitical perspective self-described punitive tariffs have a similar attribute to sanctions as they are viewed as a hostile move that is not conducive to a respectful bilateral relationship.
The sad case of the United States is one that in 2016 saw an election battle between a man who inherited his fortune from his father, compete against a woman who inherited her prestige due to her clearly impersonal marriage to Bill Clinton. Under such conditions, vanity, egotism and selfishness seem to take precedence over logic, pragmatism, diplomacy and common sense. Many people will have to pay the price for Trump’s arrogant bullying and most will be in the United States, not China.