Cooperation, Not Combat

The trade war with China accelerates as the Trump administration’s latest tariffs have been matched. Talks have broken down, and Trump seems to think that the taxes are paid by China, not US consumers. He’s not going to back down anytime soon.

Where does it stop? If the end goal is an even trade between the two nations, it’s not actually possible to accomplish it this way – unless it drops to zero. There are systemic problems in world trade generally and China specifically which create this issue that can and must be worked out. A competent administration would do that hard work and create a world that is much more even all around.

But no, we’d all rather just bully our way to prosperity or something.

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“Winning” A Trade War?

When things become chaotic, the need for original sources on the ground becomes even more important. Without direct accounts of what’s happening everything comes down to some kind of spin applied at a distance. Writers don’t always deliberately set out to misinform, but a world changing constantly is a world where information at a distance is probably outdated at best.

The problem with original sources is that they can be very hard to understand. Leaving aside other languages and pretending that google translate can handle that adequately, everyone has a different perspective. Every culture has its idioms and biases. Some things simply do not translate well.

Here is just one example of a “nearly original” source and how to read it.

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Google “craven”

The battle between the US and China is heating up. The stakes are high, having both pride and money on the line. It’s a classic showdown reminiscent of old times.

It looks like 1995, that is, in that a search engine war is just heating up. This one is between google and baidu, the Chinese search engine that rose to dominate the Chinese market after google pulled out in 2010 rather than comply with censorship laws. Google is reversing that decision in a strategic business operation which will leverage …

… oh, who am I kidding. Google is selling out bigtime and crawling back to China. Wow.

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Destruction, Creative or ???

In the area of foreign policy, is Trump just plain crazy, or crazy like a fox? Is this random flailing bent on isolating America, or is it creative destruction which tears up the old deal before dictating a new one?

Everyone in America has their opinion now. But so, too, do the leaders of foreign nations who have to deal with it. Europe seems to think that Trump is an idiot for smashing the old alliances, and that’s understandable. China, on the other hand, is much more wary that they are dealing with a more serious and permanent change.

There are very good reasons for this.

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Trade War Without Ammo

The trade war is definitely on, no matter how Wall Street wants to deny it. Serious investors have downplayed recent events as part of a grand strategy, a negotiating tool that will all work out in the end. The reality, that there isn’t really a good strategy in place here but simply petty tactics, has not sunk in yet, at least in America. But the rest of the world knows better.

For the purposes of this discussion, the European Union will be diminished to Germany. After all, this is the economic engine that powers the continent right now, and Merkel’s leadership is critical. Where is Germany going? The long and short of it, the strategic and the tactical, is to the east. This response is proof enough that there is no US strategy which makes any sense.

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Distraction

On a hot Friday before a holiday, it’s hard to stay focused. In this chaotic world, it’s usually hard to stay focused on anything, especially with supposed “leaders” relying on distraction and buzz rather than anything of substance.

So let’s play a little game of speculation. I have little to back up anything I’m about to say here, other than the simple and obvious fact that where the US has the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel, China is always playing a long game. As a colleague once told me, “China has had a bad 200 years, but we think the next 200 will make up for it.”

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Moving Beyond the US

The United States is typically a very self-absorbed nation. As the largest economy in the world, and separated by two oceans, US based news and the opinions it shapes have always been centered on domestic concerns projected out into the world. This has only been exacerbated by the a pathologically self-absorbed president.

Because of this problem, the simple fact that the world is fleeing away has escaped many Americans. What has been a growing practical reality as the US share of the world economy slips is becoming a necessity thanks to severe foreign policy mistakes, all of which cater to a domestic audience. “All politics is local” remains true, even though it clearly should not be.

The two biggest foreign policy areas, a trade war with China and sanctions against Iran, appear to be two different situations with the US at the center of both. They are not, and increasingly will become less and less about the US. This simple fact is going right past us, too – making our policies even more ridiculous and harmful to our own interests.

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