President Trump’s trade war with China might never end completely, at least in some areas, according to a top Republican hawk.
“There are certain industries in particular in which you can never do a deal with China,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told the Washington Examiner.
U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators have been deadlocked for months, an economic struggle taking place amid an intensifying geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Beijing. The relationship has been further strained by disputes over the Communist regime’s human rights abuses, while a potential crackdown on Hong Kong could derail them entirely. But Rubio already sees Hong Kong as a cautionary tale.
“It’s a pretty valuable lesson about the way that the Chinese Communist Party functions,” said Rubio, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “They will agree to virtually anything to get what they want, and then, over time they will erode those promises.”
Millions of protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong over the summer, alarmed and angered by a Beijing-backed effort to pass an extradition bill that would allow mainland Chinese authorities to take custody of Hong Kong residents based on flimsy allegations of a crime. The outrage over the bill evoked broader frustration about Chinese efforts to undermine the “one country, two systems” policy established when the United Kingdom relinquished sovereignty over Hong Kong.
“You can’t have an agreement with a country or with a government that has no intention of keeping its promises, (when) there’s no mechanism to enforce it,” Rubio said.
Trump’s public posture toward China has varied throughout the talks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with bipartisan congressional support, has launched an international campaign against Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant that U.S. officials regard as a platform for Beijing’s spy services. The president occasionally has made comments that suggest he might ease U.S. restrictions on Huawei, for instance, in the context of a broader trade agreement with Xi. But he took a much harsher position Friday, after China raised taxes on $75 billion of U.S. products.
“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” Trump wrote.
That tweet doesn’t have legal force, but it touches on a question that has been occupying U.S.-China policymakers and observers of late: How much can or should the world’s two largest economies “decouple?” While U.S. officials worry about the espionage risks that come from doing business with China, the economic ties also help prevent war by deterring China from deploying its growing military power against U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The risk of using that military … you’re going to cut off access to Western capital, you’re going to cut off access to Western technology and talent,” the Hudson Institute’s Robert Spalding, a retired Air Force general who helped craft the Trump administration’s official National Security Strategy, told the Washington Examiner. “And that’s going to cause the economy to stagnate. And now, because have a repressive society, you’re going to lose the favor of the population.”
Trump is using tariffs and demands for American companies to leave China to gain leverage in the trade negotiations. But Rubio thinks the United States needs “to be more protective of” numerous industries that are clearly targets for Chinese espionage, including the ones identified in Beijing’s vaunted “Made in China 2025” initiative.
“It’s bad in general,” Rubio said of the Chinese intellectual property theft. “It’s catastrophic when it deals with industries that are critical to our future — whether it’s rare earth minerals, whether it’s (telecommunications), quantum computing, or any of the topics they’ve chosen to prioritize.”
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