Trump's trade spat with China is driven by his goal to be re-elected, says expert

Imposing hefty tariffs on the imports of Chinese goods and banning American companies from selling technologies to a Chinese telecommunications firm partly stems from Trump's political consideration of wanting to be re-elected as president, according to a politics professor.

In order to win the voters from the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which is home to the US steel manufacturing, the businessman-turned president, who should have advocated international trade, changed his stance to adopt the America First policy, which puts emphasis on limiting international trade, thus targeting China which is suffering from steel overcapacity, said Kate Zhou, professor of comparative politics and political economy of China at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The United States' trade deficit with China has led to the loss of job opportunities in the three states, where most white workers object to globalization and free trade, said Zhou, stressing that Trump's victory in the presidential election in 2016 was largely contributed by those white working-class voters in the three states. If Trump wants to win the next presidential election, he has to do something to win their hearts, noted Zhou.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has said that she disagreed on all of Trump's policies except his harsh trade action on China. Zhou said that Warren's remarks show the popularity of Trump's current trade policy.

Trump's trade policy has split the Republican Party and alienated it away from those voters who support free trade, but Trump uses the white working-class voters to offset the loss, said Zhou. Although the Republican Party may lose the midterm election as tradition indicates the ruling party has always been defeated in the midterm elections, the tough trade policy could be a recipe for a victory in the next presidential election, according to Zhou.

Having a trade war with the United States is bad for China because foreign trade accounts for a large part of the country's gross domestic product. Since 2003, the proportion has surpassed 30 percent, said Zhou. The professor predicted that China would lose more than the United States if the two countries fight a trade war. In her opinion, the prospects for the real industrial economy in China are not as bright as expected without the support of the industries of real estate and high technology in the country's coastal provinces.

Zhou does not consider China as a fully free market economy. She said that China would face more trade attacks from the Western countries if it keeps its tax rebate rate at a high level.

Zhou thinks that liberal democracy does not work nowadays in the West because it cannot make it possible for countries to provide welfare to people while remaining competitive under the background of globalization. That is the reason why some European countries see anti-immigration politicians take power. Under the circumstances, the United States would likely join hands with some European countries to take tough trade measures against China, even though such measures are unadvisable, said Zhou.

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