Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, writes today in Forbes of the growing trade war between the United States and China. Chinese president Xi Jinping recently characterized the road ahead as a “new Long March,” in a reference to Mao Zedong’s legendary strategic retreat from Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist forces in 1934. Chafuen offers his take on the two sides in this “war,” as well as on possible outcomes and effects.
Xi Jinping has proclaimed to the Chinese that they should prepare for a “new long march.” The term “new long march” has a very important historical meaning in China. It evokes Mao Zedong’s strategic retreat in 1934, a retreat from nationalist troops through China’s vast territory. The goal of those who survived, though, was to come back to take power. Mao acquired a reputation as a great leader, and his party took power completely in 1949. The Communist takeover in China led to more deaths than any other regime in the history of mankind—estimates are from 49 to 78 million victims. During the period from 1958 to 1962 alone, the supposed “Great Leap Forward,” 45 million people died.
Trade wars don’t have nearly as many deaths, but almost everyone loses. This is not an exaggeration—the United States and China make up 40% of the global economy, and what happens there affects the whole world. Both economies are much larger than the third and fourth largest (Japan and Germany), which taken together are still less than China’s. Only the United States can take on China’s trade practices—which have attracted much criticism—with any prospect of success.
Production chains are so intertwined that the shockwaves and bottlenecks resulting from a trade war will affect unforeseen producers. In some cases the affected industry may be one with a unique product, and if this were something necessary for an American military aircraft, for example, the U.S. government would feel obliged to grant exceptions. Peter Navarro, Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and one of the main proponents of President Trump’s aggressive stance towards China, has a team that studies these possible bottlenecks and unwanted effects of high tariffs and boycotts of Chinese products. He feels optimistic that he can control the effects, but given the interconnectedness of the economy and the economic processes behind most elaborate products, I have serious doubts.
Read the full article here.
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