White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed in a statement that Steve Bannon, along with Chief of Staff John Kelly, had agreed that Friday would be Bannon’s final day at the White House as Chief Strategist to President Trump. Earlier that same day, the New York Times and other media outlets had reported that Trump had decided to remove Bannon.
The now former Chief Strategist was often satirically referred to as “President Bannon” by US media in efforts to highlight his supposed incomparable influence on President Trump. He is well-known for being far-right and “hawkish of the hawkish.” Before he started working at the White House, he even claimed that the two “largest threats” to the US are China and Islam.
Trump’s termination of Bannon could be linked to the tremendous amount of pressure that was placed on him by the Charlottesville riots from the previous weekend. Regardless, it can only be sincerely hoped for that Brannon’s exit will inspire White House decision-makers to reduce the radical aspects of its global policies, and thus assist the US in making greater constructive contributions toward the global issues at hand.
On Thursday, Bannon once again addressed a few key points from his China policy. In an interview with the quarterly magazine American Prospect, Bannon said the US is locked in an “economic war with China,” and promised future aggressive trade actions against the country. He stressed that the US needs to be, “maniacally focused on that.” “One of us is going to be a hegemony in 25 or 30 years, and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path,” he said. “If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
Other specific China issues Bannon touched upon included the utilization of Section 301 from the Trade Act of 1974 to investigate intellectual property (IP) disputes, establishing a purchase limit on China with regard to their interest in US technology, and limiting US imports from China. Bannon denied authorizing the publication of the recent interview. However, the rhetoric does prove to be an accurate reflection of his long-term views on China.
It is known that many in the US have proposed various forms of confrontations against China, and would do anything necessary to contain China’s ongoing ascension upon the world stage. Frankly speaking, on the Chinese side, there are those who believe the differences between the two super powers are irreconcilable, and China should give up “any fantasy” it may have of cooperating with the US. Should China and the US choose to engage in a full-scale showdown, it would not be difficult for either side to find strong justifications and zealous supporters?
However, there are clearly many reasons China and the US should avoid confrontation of any kind and try collectively to boost its mutual concern over constructive cooperation. Efforts in the latter would benefit the two nations, as more Chinese and Americans would support such cooperation, rather than proceed toward a path of conflict. It is likely that Bannon will maintain the belief, even during his final minutes at the White House, that the US should engage in an economic war against China, and that the two countries indeed have a fight-to-the-death competitive streak against one other.
Then again, such radical slogans are merely “the worst preparation” or impulsive idea in the US for an overall perspective toward China. Should Brannon want his ideas to be turned into actual US government policy toward China, the White House must gain the consensus from US business leaders along with US society as a whole.
Even though Bannon is out, his influence will loom over the White House to some extent. Even if he was not fired, he did not necessarily have the power to “create an inflection point.” People cannot win over a trend. The $500 billion bilateral trade deal is the trend, and therefore so is the steady increase of bilateral trade itself. Anyone standing in the way of this trend does not have the tremendous power of a giant dam to contain such waters.
It is easy to campaign for an economic war against China, but those who favor this must be fully prepared. China’s exports to the US are related to the global industry chain. About 59 percent of China’s trade surplus to the US comes from joint ventures in China. If high tariffs are imposed on China imports, then many US businesses will suffer from immediate losses. Moreover, US consumers will be forced to confront rising prices, plus transportation, warehouse and retail sectors will be forced to slash its workforce.
For China, it is easy to play retaliatory eye-for-an-eye games with the US, such as limiting Boeing imports, along with beans and beef from the US. Boeing’s manufacturing apparatus includes almost every state in America, and beans and beef are harvested and raised in Trump’s base states. More importantly, China is the world’s second largest economy and the largest trading nation. China won’t let any economic war become a computer game rigged by the US.
Whether the US can keep its competitive technological and economical edge upon the world stage depends on its capability to grow to its full potential. Whether or not it can defeat China is not a factor. The biggest rival the US has is itself, rather than outside forces, especially China. Bannon has mislead the US by asking Washington to stay focused on targeting its “enemies.”
It is sincerely hoped that Brannon’s departure is more than just a symbolic exit. It should hopefully allow people to feel reassured that the strategic mindset of the Trump administration is “hitting an inflection point.”