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US trade adviser undercuts claim that trade war is ‘on hold’ as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross preps for Beijing
Trade hawk Peter Navarro pushes back against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s statement that US moves were ‘on hold’, saying China engages ‘in a whole range of unfair trade practices’
 
US President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser undercut Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Washington’s position with respect to China on Wednesday, calling Mnuchin’s declaration of a pause in trade action against Beijing “an unfortunate sound bite”.
 
“That was an unfortunate sound bite basically for two reasons. What we’re having with China is a trade dispute, plain and simple,” US National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro said, referring to Mnuchin’s May 20 comment that trade action against China was “on hold”.
 
“They engage in a whole range of unfair trade practices, they run up a US$370 billion trade surplus with us, which costs us over a million factory jobs a year,” Navarro said in an interview with National Public Radio. “President Trump basically is going to address that with appropriate measures.”
 
Navarro’s comments underscore the frequent shifts in the Trump administration’s position on China – which the president has both praised and denigrated since before he took office last year – and come shortly before US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross departs for Beijing for a third round of high-level talks aimed at defusing the trade dispute.
 
They also come a day after Trump surprised analysts by announcing dates for his tariffs to go into effect, a move that appeared to nullify Mnuchin’s positive take on the most recent round of talks, which ended on May 19. 
 
Trump’s move also prompted an immediate rebuke from China.
 
China’s commerce ministry said in a statement released hours after Trump’s announcement that the move “clearly contradicts the consensus reached by China and the US in Washington recently”.
 
“China is confident, capable and experienced to defend Chinese people's interests and national core interests, regardless of whatever measures the US side could take,” the ministry said.
 
Still, a return to Trump’s hard-line approach will not necessarily doom Ross’s trip this weekend, said Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Washington-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, citing China’s “very measured” response.
 
“Ross is still going to Beijing, and he will come home with some kind of deal,” Kennedy said. “Now President Trump can claim that whatever is achieved is the result of this dialed-up pressure.”
 
Navarro was part of the delegation Mnuchin led to Beijing in early May for the first round of talks, which produced no consensus and reportedly included a shouting match between the two men over the US negotiating stance.
 
Navarro was not involved in the most recent round of talks in Washington.
 
Ross and Mnuchin, both former investment bankers, are seen as the more moderate members of the US negotiating team. Navarro is an economist best known for writing Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action.
 
An advance team of more than 50 economic officials arrived in Beijing on Wednesday “to come to a mutual understanding about what kind of joint statement the two sides will make” regarding the forthcoming talks, the China Ministry of Commerce announced.
 
A US Commerce Department official confirmed to the South China Morning Post on Wednesday that Ross would be in Beijing from Saturday through Monday, but declined to say whether Navarro would be part of the delegation.june2-4
 
Navarro is seen as closely aligned with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who spearheaded his department’s investigation into China’s trade and investment policies. That inquiry provided the justification for punitive tariffs on US$50 billion worth of annual imports from China, which Trump announced last month.
 
The trade representative’s nearly 200-page report outlining China’s trade practices alleges, among other things, that these policies “deprive U.S. companies of the ability to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology related negotiations with Chinese companies and undermine US companies’ control over their technology in China”.
 
In his interview with NPR, Navarro said: “America is the best innovator in the world. The problem we have now is every time we innovate something new, China comes in and either buys it or steals it.
 
“What we need to do as a country, and the president has the courage and vision to do this, we’ve got to stand up to Chinese economic predation.”   

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