The China-US Trade War: Why China can’t win it?

Professor Anis Bajrektarevic,: China - USA war

Professor Anis Bajrektarevic, since early 2000s, teaches subjects of Geo-political Affairs, Intl. Law (incl. Intl. Relations, Law of IOs and EU Law) and Sustainable Development (institutions and instruments of). Besides, he served as a pro bono expert at many academic institutions, think tanks and intergovernmental institutions (such as the UN ECE, OSCE, Council of Europe, American Bar, Oxford Academy of Total Intelligence, etc.).

Professor is an editor of the NY-based GHIR (Geopolitics, History and Intl. Relations) journal, and editorial board member of several similar specialized magazines on three continents.

He also recently launched one of the most fast expanding European platforms for politics and economy, security and energy, with a special chapter on environment and the so-called “tomorrow’s people for the green planet and green economy”—modern diplomacy. Starting modestly just a few years ago, today the MD has over four million clicks monthly.

Prof. is the author of dozens of presentations, publications, speeches, seminars, research colloquiums as well as many public events (round tables and study trips, etc.). His writings are frequently published in all five continents (over 70 countries, translated in some 25 languages). He is regularly guest lecturing at many national dipl. academies, prestigious national universities and governmental training facilities.

Prof. Bajrektarevic is an elected arbiter and mediator before many permanent national arbitration tribunals in Europe and in Asia.

Today we speak with Prof. Bajrektarevic about main aspects of The China-US Trade War:

“Does our history only appear overheated, while it is calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? Surely, our history warns. Does it also provide for hope? Hence, what is in front of us: destiny or future?

Theory loves to teach us that extensive debates on what kind of economic system is most conducive to human wellbeing is what consumes most of our civilizational vertical. However, our history has a different say: It seems that the manipulation of the global political economy—far more than the introduction of ideologies—is the dominant and arguably more durable way that human elites usually conspired to build or break civilizations, as planned projects. Somewhere down the process, it deceived us, becoming the self-entrapment. How?

One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality: Whether the world is Hobbesian or Kantian. As postulated, the main task of any liberal state is to enable and maintain the wealth of its nation, which, of course, rests upon wealthy individuals inhabiting the particular state. That imperative brought about another dilemma: if you’re a wealthy individual, the state will rob you, but if you are not, the pauperized masses will mob you.

The invisible hand of Smith’s followers has found the satisfactory answer—sovereign debt. That “invention” meant a strong central government of the state. Instead of popular control through the democratic checks-and-balance mechanism, such a state should be rather heavily indebted. Debt—firstly to local merchants, then to foreigners—is a far more powerful deterrent, as it resides outside the popular check domain.

With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy, and abandon its hierarchical but invisible and unconstitutional controls. This is how a debtor empire was born. A blessing or totalitarian curse? Let us briefly examine it.

The Soviet Union—as much as (pre-Deng’s) China—was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, apparent, secretive), while the US was more a financial-trading empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). On opposite sides of the globe and cognition, to each other they remained enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable: Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Sparta vs. Athens. Rome vs. Phoenicia. However, common for the both (as much as for China today) was a super-appetite for omnipresence. Along with the price to pay for it.

Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s; they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans—the “white man burden” fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officialising it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How?

The United States, with its financial capital (or an outfoxing illusion of it), evolved into a debtor empire through the Wall Street guarantees. Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper. Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously quoted J.B. Connally to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, the dollar is our currency, but your problem.” Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

House of Cards

Conventional economic theory teaches us that money is a universal equivalent to all goods. Historically, currencies were space and time-related, to say locality-dependent. However, like no currency ever before, the US dollar became—post WWII—the universal equivalent to all other monies of the world. According to the history of currency, the core component of the non-precious metals’ money is a so-called promissory note—the intangible belief that, by any given point in future, a particular shiny paper (self-styled as money) will be smoothly exchanged for real goods.

Thus, roughly speaking, money is nothing else but a civilizational construct about imagined and projected tomorrow—that the next day (which nobody has ever seen in the history of humankind, but everybody operates with) definitely comes (i), and that this tomorrow will certainly be a better day then our yesterday or even our today (ii).

This and similar types of collective constructs (horizontal and vertical) over our social contracts hold society together as much as its economy keeps it alive and evolving. Hence, it is money that powers the economy, but our blind faith in constructed (imagined) tomorrows and its alleged certainty is what empowers money.

Clearly, the universal equivalent of all equivalents—the US dollar—follows the same pattern: Bold and widely accepted promise. What does the US dollar promise when there is no gold cover attached to it ever since the time of Nixon shock of 1971?

The Pentagon promises that the oceanic sea-lanes will remain open (read: controlled by the US Navy), pathways unhindered, and that the most traded world’s commodity—oil, will be delivered. So, it is not a crude or its delivery what is a cover to the US dollar—it is a promise that tomorrow’s oil will be deliverable. That is a real might of the US dollar, which in return finances Pentagon’s massive expenditures and shoulders its supremacy.

Admired and feared, the Pentagon further fans our planetary belief in tomorrow’s deliverability—if we only keep our faith in dollars (and hydrocarbons’ energized economy), and so on and on in perpetuated circles of mutual reinforcements. (Supplementing the Monroe Doctrine, President Howard Taft introduced the so-called “dollar diplomacy”—in early XX c.—that “substitutes dollars for bullets.” This is one of the first official acknowledgements of the Wall Street—Pentagon symbiotic link).

These two pillars of the US might from the East coast (the US Treasury/Wall Street and Pentagon) together with the two pillars of the West coast—both financed and amplified by the US dollar, and spread through the open sea-routes (Silicon Valley and Hollywood), are an essence of the US posture.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take mankind in a completely different direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized (or de-financialized) and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. In short, to turn history into a moral success story. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, and the Deng’s Copernicus-shift of China, the US—unconstrained as a lonely superpower—solely dictated terms of reference; our common destiny and direction to our future.

Winner is rarely a game-changer

Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US to soften and delay its forthcoming, imminent multidimensional imperial retreat. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically—54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically—the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the “nuclear monopoly.” Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this “ultimate weapon” on another nation. To complete the irony, Americans enjoy a geographic advantage like no other empire before. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighbourhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing.” Look at the map, at Russia or China and their packed surroundings. The US is blessed with its insular position, by neighbouring oceans. All that should harbour tranquillity, peace and prosperity, foresightedness.

Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into an empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? Why does it hold (extra-judicially) captive more political prisoners on Cuban soil than the badmouthed Cuban regime has ever had? Why does it remain obsessed with armament for at home and abroad? Why existential anxieties for at home and security challenges for abroad? E.g., 78% of all weaponry at disposal in the wider MENA theatre is manufactured in the US, while domestically Americans—only for their civilian purpose—have one to two small arms pieces per capita.

Why did the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago mark the beginning of decades of stagnant or failing incomes in the US (and elsewhere in the OECD world) coupled with alarming inequalities? What are we talking about here; the inadequate intensity of our tireless confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction?

Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. The grand design of every empire in the past rested on a skilful calibration between obedience and initiative—at home, and between bandwagoning and engagement—abroad. In the XXI century, one wins when one convinces not when one coerces. Hence, if unable to escape its inner logic and deeply rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing arch-rival is only a winner, rarely a significant change.

A Country or a Cause, Both or None?

To sum up; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans accelerated expansion while waiting for (real or imagined) adversaries to further decline, “liberalize” and bandwagon behind the US. One of the instruments was to aggressively push for a greater economic integration between regional and distant states, which—as we see now, passed the “End-of-History” euphoria of the 1990s—brought about (irreversible) socio-political disintegration among them.

Expansion is the path to the security dictatum of the post-Cold War socio-political and economic mantra, only worsened the problems afflicting the Pax Americana. That is how the capability of the US to maintain its order started to erode faster than the capacity of its opponents to challenge it. A classical imperial self-entrapment!

The repeated failure to notice and recalibrate its imperial retreat brought the painful hangovers to Washington, most noticeably, by the last presidential elections. Inability to manage the rising costs of sustaining the imperial order only increased the domestic popular revolt and political pressure to abandon its “mission” altogether. Perfectly hitting the target to miss everything else …

Hence, Americans are not fixing the world anymore. They are only managing its decline. Look at their footprint in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria or Yemen—to mention but a few.

When the Soviets lost their own indigenous ideological matrix and maverick confrontational stance, and when the US dominated West missed to triumph although winning the Cold War, how to expect from the imitator to score the lasting moral or even a temporary economic victory?

Lasting collision course already leads to the subsequent calls for a decoupling of the two world’s largest economies. Besides marking the end of global capitalism which exploded since the fall of the Berlin Wall, this may finally trigger a global realignment. The rest of the world would end up—willingly or not—in the rival (trade) blocks. It would not be a return to the 1950s and 1960s, but to the pre-WWI constellations. Epilogue is plain to see: Neither more confrontation and more carbons nor more weaponized trade and traded weapons will save our day. It failed in our past, it will fail again any given day.

Entrapment in Imitation

Interestingly, China opposed the I World, left the II in rift, and ever since Bandung of 1955 it neither won over nor (truly) joined the III Way. Today, many see it as a main contestant. But where is a lasting success?

There is a near consensus among the economists that China owes its economic success to three fundamental factors. Firstly, the People’s Republic embraced an imitative economic policy (much like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan or ROK did before) through Deng-proclaimed opening. Second goes to a modest domestic consumption, and German-like thick home savings. Finally, as the third factor that the economists attribute to Chinese miracle, is the low production costs of the Sino nation—mostly on expenses of its aging demography, and on expenses of its own labour force and country’s environment. None of it has an international appeal, nor it holds promise to an attainable future. Therefore, no wonder that the Imitative power fights—for at home and abroad—a defensive ideological battle. Such a reactive status quo has no intellectual appeal to attract and inspire beyond its borders.

So, if for China the XIX was a “century of humiliation,” XX “century of emancipation,” should it be that the XXI gets labelled as a “century of imitation”? (The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is what is most attributed as an instrument of the Chinese planetary posture. Chinese leaders promised massive infrastructure projects all around by burning trillions of dollars. Still, numbers are more moderate. As the recent The II BRI Summit has shown, so far, Chinese companies have invested USD 90 billion worldwide. Seems, neither People’s Republic is as rich as many (wish to) think nor it will be able to finance its promised projects without seeking for a global private capital. Such a capital—if ever—will not flow without conditionalities. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS or “New Development”—Bank have some $150 billion at hand, and the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund (SRIF) has up to $40 billion. Chinese state and semi-private companies can access—according to the OECD estimates—just another $600 billion (much of it tight) from the home, state-controlled financial sector. That means that China runs short on the BRI deliveries worldwide. Ergo, either bad news to the (BRI) world or the conditionalities’ constrained China).

How does one behave in the world in which economies are made to service trade (as it is defined by the Sino-American high priests of globalization), while trade increasingly constitutes a significant part of the big power’s national security strategy? And, how to define (and measure) the existential threat: by inferiority of ideological narrative—like during the Cold War; or by a size of a lagging gap in total manufacturing output—like in the Cold War aftermath. Or something third? Perhaps a return to an inclusive growth.

For sure, there is no intellectual appeal in a growth without well-being, education that does not translate into fair opportunity, lives without dignity, liberalization without personal freedom. Greening international relations along with a greening of social fabrics and its economy—geopolitical and environmental understanding, de-acidification and relaxation is that missing, third, way for tomorrow.

This necessitates both at once: less confrontation over the art-of-day technology and their de-monopolized redistribution as well as the resolute work on the so-called Tesla-ian implosive and fusion-holistic systems. That would include the free-transfer non-Hertzian energy technologies (able to detoxicate our troposphere from dangerous fields, waves and frequencies emittance—bringing it closer to Schumann resonance); carbon-sequestration; antigravity and self-navigational solutions; bioinformatics and nanorobotics.

In short, more of initiative than of obedience (including more public control over data hoovering). More effort to excellence (creation) than a struggle for pre-eminence (partition).

“Do to your neighbour what you would have them do to you” is a Biblical-sounding economic prophecy that the circles close to the IMF love to tirelessly repeat. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a formidable national economic prosperity, if the good neighbourly relations are not built and maintained. Clearly, no global leader has ever in history emerged from a shaky and distrustful neighbourhood, or by offering a little bit more of the same in lieu of an innovative technological advancement. (E.g., many see Chinese 5G—besides the hazardous electrosmog of IoT that this technology emits on Earth’s biota—as an illiberal innovation, which may end up servicing authoritarianism, anywhere—sort of diffusion of digital authoritarianism. And indeed, AI deep learning inspired by biological neurons (neural science) including its three methods: supervised, unsupervised and reinforced learning can end up by being used for digital authoritarianism, predictive policing and manufactured social governance based on the bonus-malus behavioural social credits).

Ergo, it all starts from within, from at home; socio-economically and environmentally. Without support from a home base (including that of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet), there is no game changer. China’s home is Asia. Its size and its centrality along with its impressive output is constraining it enough.

Conclusively, it is not only a new, non-imitative, turn of socioeconomics and technology that is needed. Without truly and sincerely embracing mechanisms such as the NaM, ASEAN and SAARC (eventually even the OSCE) and the main champions of multilateralism in Asia, those being India Indonesia and Japan first of all, China has no future of what is planetary awaited—the third force, a game-changer, lasting visionary and trusted global leader.

Post Scriptum:

To varying degrees, but all throughout premodern and modern history, nearly every world’s major foreign policy originator was dependent (and still depends) on what happens in, and to, Russia. It is not only a size, but also a centrality of Russia that matters. That is important as much (if not even more), as it is an omnipresence of the US or a hyperproduction of the PR China. Ergo, that is an uninterrupted flow of manufactured goods to the whole world, it is balancing of the oversized and centrally positioned one, and it is the ability to controllably destruct the way in and insert itself of the peripheral one. The oscillatory interplay of these three is what characterizes our days”.

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