Trump First, or America First?

It looks like the American people are now faced with a new choice: do they want America, or do they want Trump? How could this sort of question arise? It’s because during the election last year, President Trump’s famous slogan was “America First.” This slogan got the American people’s blood rushing, it got people very excited — but half a year later, people are discovering that “America First” is yet to be realized. Instead, we’re seeing more and more of “Trump First.” President Trump has been enacting all sorts of “executive orders” nonstop, making it clear to the world what “Trump First” is really all about. Meanwhile, “America First” is turning out to be little more than a slogan! Because anyone who has even a trace of international perspective can see that as long as “Trump First” exists, there can never be “America First.” In fact, everything that Trump is doing is actually a hindrance to “America First.”

On Aug. 14, President Trump brandished his pen and signed an “executive memorandum” instructing America’s trade negotiation representative to initiate Section 301*, launching an investigation into the laws, regulations and conduct of Chinese companies that trade with the United States. As everyone knows, this domestic American law violates the basic principles of the World Trade Organization. It is a protectionist piece of legislation which advances unilateral action in direct violation of international conventions mandating fair, equitable and public cooperative practices. This is an extremist trade policy, as the United States itself is well aware.

The fact that America is invoking Section 301 indicates, on the one hand, that the White House is reaching the end of its rope, and, on the other hand, that the irrationality of America’s economic and trade structures is reaching the point where it poses a serious obstacle to America’s own development. Things are not looking good for the United States.

Since President Trump entered the White House, in order to advance “Trump First,” he first targeted the exchange rate, threatening to deem China a “currency manipulator.” But this trick didn’t work, so he tried his second trick: he played the U.S.-China trade deficit card in an attempt to convince the world that America has suffered some great loss. But the vast majority of people are already fed up with these antics, since this trade deficit issue exists between the U.S. and almost every other developed nation in the world. As long as America refuses to open up markets and relax control over high-tech companies, a trade deficit is inevitable. And it is impossible to change this situation solely by relying on other people.

And so, President Trump is trying his third trick: he is playing the Section 301 “Trump Card,” and using it to go after China ferociously. But can this trick really be effective? Can it save the prosperity and stability of America’s economy and trade? Different people have different opinions. As they say in China, “you can only see the mud on your legs after you come out of the water.”** Trump has now played his three cards, and now America is like a reckless man half trapped in a quagmire and struggling to save himself but unable to know whether he is really safe until he emerges from that quagmire.

Some people are worried that President Trump’s use of Section 301 is like an old landlord’s counterattack, meant to hurt the lifeblood of China’s economic development and trade enterprises. There’s certainly no question that if the 301 law actually does launch an investigation, that would be an action with grave consequences. As they say, “an upright man does not fear a crooked shadow, and a blameless man does not fear demons knocking at his door.” It is a real pity that the opponent we face speaks with neither reason nor conscience. When America launched the Gulf War, the Pandora’s box of the Middle East was blown open, and it brought about much suffering, did it not? And, nevertheless, America demanded that these countries, who had suffered such great losses, pay for America’s wartime expenses. This is the principle that guides America’s actions; it is the American way. And when you’re dealing with a country like that, nothing is off the table.

There are also some people who use Imperial Japan as an example. They think that, under America’s Section 301, Japan is surrendering to the United States for a second time (their first surrender being at the end of World War II), and thus ensuring America’s position as global top dog. And so, some people pessimistically believe that China might repeat Japan’s mistakes and be pushed by America into dangerous economic collapse and trade stagnation.

And we should be worried about this; China must plan for the worst. If we are prepared for the worst, we’ll have nothing to fear, no matter what happens. This isn’t alarmist; this is something that very well could happen. In a world where “Trump First” exists, anything is possible.

But China is nothing like Imperial Japan. The greatest difference is that Japan’s market demand was nowhere near as large or vigorous as China’s is today. The vibrancy of China’s market demand has enabled China’s economy and trade to withstand pressure and withstand aggression, and has given it more flexibility, toughness, endurance, rigidity, adaptability and other key factors than that of any other country in the world. The second point is that China has the world’s most comprehensive, complete and mutually complementary industrial and trade structures. The East does not shine as bright as the West; we have a thousand ways to solve the same problem, and we never rely on a tree to cool off in the shade. All of this guarantees the ability of China’s economy and trade to develop sustainably. No matter what kind of attack we suffer, China is certain to avert disaster and smoothly overcome any challenges.

There were significant environmental costs associated with China’s Reform and Opening-Up Policy,*** and some of these costs came from “contributions” from foreign companies, including American companies. China should seriously investigate the U.S.-funded companies that moved their high-power consumption, high-pollution assembly lines to China at that time. In particular, tire manufacturing, the paper manufacturing industry and parts of the synthetic fiber industry have irreparably harmed China’s land, water and air quality. This has had a direct impact on the health and ecological environment of several generations, and the Chinese government has poured huge sums of money into environmental controls meant to help overcome the economic and health losses that these issues created. And when it comes to the engineering and construction work required to deal with this issue – something that impacts the health and environment of millions of people – more than a few foreign companies have used “intellectual property rights” as an excuse to be extremely sluggish in providing the technology and equipment that China needs.

China should launch an investigation and publish an accurate report regarding these issues so that the whole world knows how the problems that accompanied China’s development came about.

China has no intention of fighting for the top position; the best opportunity for China is to maintain its current position. Unfortunately, President Trump does not appreciate how positive the current situation is and instead is determined to provoke trade conflicts. So, let’s wait and see, for America’s cozy “coke and hamburgers” lifestyle certainly cannot persist.

President Trump should understand the Chinese saying, “retire at your peak;” with flexibility, anything can be achieved. All President Trump must do is to abandon his “Trump First” politics and return to a more practical, win-win path. Perhaps the promise of “America First” can finally be realized; it’s just a matter of time.

These are words of kindness, presented with good intentions and positivity; let’s see if President Trump will be grateful!

*Editor’s note: The author is referring to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 which authorizes the U.S. government to investigate foreign governments who, “burden, restrict or discriminate against United States Commerce.”

**Translator’s note: This phrase has a similar meaning to, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”

***Translator’s note: This refers to economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping around 1980.

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