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Trump announces all-out trade war with China

By Masao Suzuki |
September 18, 2018
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Steel is one of the many targets of Trump's tariffs.
Steel is one of the many targets of Trump's tariffs.

San José, CA – On Sept. 17, President Trump announced that tariffs of 10% will be slapped on $200 billion of Chinese goods starting Sept. 24. These tariffs will rise to 25% at the beginning of 2019. Trump also said that he would put tariffs on another $267 billion dollars of imports from China if China responds to his tariffs. Along with the tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports already in place, this would mean steep tariffs on virtually all of the $500 billion in goods that the United States buys from China.

China has all along replied to Trump’s tariffs with tit-for-tat tariffs, while calling for negotiations. While it cannot match the United States, as it imports much less than the United States in terms of tariffs, U.S. businesses do have much more extensive business in China that could be restricted. China’s currency has also been falling in value, offsetting part of the price increases that Trump’s tariffs would bring.

The main goal of the Trump administration is to slow or stop China’s modernization drive, which seeks to put China on an equal footing with Western nations and Japan in terms of high technology. This goal of blocking China has wide backing among the big capitalists and both their political parties (the Republicans and the Democrats), even though many disagree with his tactic of a unilateral trade war. This goal, along with Trump’s desire to restore basic manufacturing in the United States at the expense of China, would leave China in the position like many former colonial countries of having an economy based on low-wage labor such as textiles and exporting raw materials.

China’s socialist modernization, along with opening up to world trade, has led to one of the greatest reductions in poverty in world history. China is currently trying to make sure that it is not caught in what is called the “middle-income trap,” where poorer countries make some economic progress but are not able to close the gap with high incomes in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. The Trump administration’s desire to roll back China’s economic progress will never be accepted by China’s government or people.

Many of Trump’s advisors and Wall Street pundits argue that China’s economy is hurting because its stock market is in bear market territory, down over 20% this year, while the U.S. stock market is near record highs. But they don’t understand the basic difference between the two economies. In the United States, with its capitalist economy, the stock market is seen as a key barometer of corporate profits, which drive the U.S. economy. The Chinese stock market plays a secondary role in what is still a largely socialist economy dominated by state-owned banks and businesses.

Ultimately, the impact of price increases for imported consumer goods will fall most heavily on poor and low-income working-class Americans. At the same time the trade war could push Chinese businesses to put even more effort in developing their own higher-technology goods, the very thing that Trump is claiming to oppose.

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