By Wang Peng Source: Beijing Review Published: 2018-7-19
After U.S. President Donald Trump instigated a trade war that launched 25-percent tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products on July 6, the Chinese Government immediately retaliated with tit-for-tat duties on U.S. goods.
Faced with this epic standoff between two giants across the Pacific, international observers have been left wondering why Trump is so bent on waging a war against his country's most important trading partner and asking what the potential international and domestic results of this conflict could be.
Economic world war
For Trump, this is a Holy War in which the U.S. working class must fight for its fair share and a just battle to punish "thieving countries" which have stolen U.S. intellectual property and gained an extra advantage in the global market via unfair means. As he has repeatedly claimed, it is time to do away with unfair globalization and bring back the benefits that belong to the U.S. people.
However, it is necessary to point out the logical fallacy and clumsy sophistry.
The root cause of the supposed impoverishment and marginalization of the current middle and lower class in the United States is neither globalization nor China's "economic aggression" as Trump has claimed.
Over the past 70 years since the end of World War II, globalization promoted by the United States has been based on a series of U.S.-centric international regimes such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization (WTO), boosted by the U.S. advantages in
science and technology, reliance on the dollar as an international common currency and, last but not least, unparalleled U.S. military might.
As a result, globalization shaped by and for the United States has built a hierarchical order within postwar international society with its ultimate goal being to defend U.S. political and economic hegemony and safeguard U.S. national interests.
The United States sits at the top of this hierarchy as the biggest beneficiary of this process of globalization, which is lacking in both fairness and justice. The rest of the world, including China, have partaken in this system either actively or passively to obtain legal benefits by trading their natural or human resources with relative advantages. However, they are all ruled and exploited by the international group of rentiers represented by Wall Street. This group has successfully seized resources and drawn excess profit from the whole world.
However, the political system in the United States has made the most of the dividends of U.S.-led globalization, pocketed exclusively by a small group of ruling elites while abandoning a large number of blue-collar workers. Therefore, this is a domestic political, economic and social problem for the United States itself, rather than the result of an external economic invasion.
However, the United States, as the global military and economic superpower, never seriously considers its own domestic reform, but is instead used to passing on domestic issues and economic crises by flooding the global market with its own inflated dollars and launching trade wars, and at times military invasions, against other states. Simply put, Washington has long been accustomed to using hegemonic means to force other countries to sacrifice their national interests and legitimate rights to development to pay for the insatiable greed of the U.S. rentiers.
Who will suffer?
The above reasons and indigenous causes of Trump's "economic world war" dictate that even if the United States could win this trade fight against the world, including China and the United States' traditional allies like the EU, Japan and South Korea, ordinary U.S. people would not receive a penny from the triumph. Rather, they will be further plagued with suffering at the hands of the power-holding groups who will successfully strengthen their grip on global resources and the international market, as well as their control at home.
Therefore, as long as the political and economic institutions in the United States remain fundamentally unreformed, the vast ill-gotten wealth extracted from the world will be devoured by the ruling U.S. rentier class, rather than used to improve the lives of ordinary people. More severely, since Trump has launched a trade war against nearly all the world's major economies, the daily life of people in the United States will be significantly affected.
While the United States is no longer the world's factory as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, ordinary people today still enjoy the privilege of consuming high-quality products from around the world at a low price, including those made in China. They have globalization to thank. However, due to Trump's trade war, goods from China and Southeast Asia may increase in price to compensate for excessive tariffs. The resulting losses will not be shouldered by property tycoons like Trump and his cronies, but by people who will be forced to buy similar products made in the United States at a much higher price. Huge profits will then fill the pockets of U.S. manufacturers and big business owners, and widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
Trump has made an enemy of not only China but also the whole world. And his economic war will inevitably trigger a response from China, the EU, India, Japan and South Korea, among others. The U.S. grassroots will suffer from the consequences, including workers in Detroit, soybean farmers in the Midwest and fishermen in the country's coastal regions.
In sum, the United States, once a leader of globalization and a founding member of the WTO, has now turned to isolationism and trade protectionism. Trump's missteps have not only produced more U.S. enemies in the world, but provoked public anger at home as well. At this historic juncture, the U.S. people should stand up bravely as their ancestors did and say no to the oligarchs.
After all, in an era of multi-polarization, no country can be above others. Rather, only mutual respect, equal consultation, mutual benefit and win-win principles can safeguard the common security and sustainable prosperity of all the people and nations of the world.
Wang Peng is an associate researcher at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.