Stephen Roach. 

Describing four US high-ranking officials as a “Gang of Four” who recently took turns delivering well-orchestrated “tirades” against China, a renowned US economist believes that they attempted to “provide support for the politics of China-bashing by the Trump administration” and to “deflect attention from the very poor performance” of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus as well as racial tensions in the country.

“The more he can blame China and intensify the emotions, the more he can deflect the attention away from his inept political performance,” Stephen Roach, a faculty member at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said in a video interview with China Daily on Wednesday.

In the “Gang of Four”, Roach included national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who focused on China as an ideological threat; FBI Director Christopher Wray, who addressed espionage; Attorney General William Barr, who spoke of the economic issues; and most recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo delivered a speech on July 23 at the Nixon Library in California that provided “an uncomfortable bookend to the opening-up of US-China relations that President Richard Nixon initiated with his historic visit to China in 1972”, Roach wrote in a column published on the CNN website on Tuesday.

“In a climate where US public opinion of China is at a record low, a confident Gang of Four swung for the fences. Unfortunately, their arguments as a whole are largely specious, laced with conspiracy theories and devoid of fact-based analytics,” the column said.

Among the four, Barr chose to present the economic case against China in his speech, delivered at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Michigan on July 16.

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China is engaged in a campaign to “seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower”, Barr said.

Roach said, “As an economist, I have long stressed the role that foreign trade plays in shaping the US economy. These four officials, all schooled and trained as lawyers, have neither the necessary background nor the experience to speak from this perspective.

“The trade between the US and China is very important and supports elements for both economies,” Roach said, adding that the fact now seems “lost in the politics of much deeper and broader” worries of conflict.

Roach said that the four US officials had gone to “extreme positions” in describing the threats posed by China to the US.

“It’s a very dangerous strategy,” he said, adding that it reminded him of the strategy many US officials used in the 1950s in attacking the “red peril” presented by the former Soviet Union. “So we’ve been there before, and it’s very dangerous.”

China and the US will be holding another round of high-level trade talks on Aug 15, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Roach believes that trade negotiations could be a good thing for both countries, but there are numerous obstacles in the current US-China relationship.

“The closing of consulates in Houston and in Chengdu, the expelling of reporters on both sides, the threats to limit visas of Chinese students studying in the United States, the intervention in the affairs of Chinese companies operating around the world, like Huawei, ByteDance with TikTok. These are all very contentious issues in the context of the four speeches of the Gang of Four.”

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Roach said he believes that the US action against popular videosharing app TikTok is an example of the US “attempting to do as much damage to any type of Chinese business entity as possible with absolutely no evidence to support the allegations”.

“TikTok is a social media platform that is supported by young teenagers making humorous films with each other. How and under what set of circumstances should this … be characterized a threat to American national security?” said Roach.

“There’s a lot of allegations that have been made time and time again without any substantial verification or proof of that,” he said.

“Where’s the evidence for that, where is the data of that? Where are the examples of … a national security threat?” Roach asked.

He added that as technology platforms around the world are changing rapidly, “China has made extraordinary progress in a number of areas, not just in social media platforms like TikTok, Weibo, WeChat, but also in e-commerce, web sciences, fintech, and of course, artificial intelligence”.

He said that the US has also made great progress in many of those areas, and this is a highly competitive way of pushing ahead on innovation for all countries around the world. He said he believes that the US should welcome the competition from Europe, South Korea, Japan and China.

Roach is concerned about the atmosphere between China and the US, but hopes the situation changes in the coming months.

Zong Yi in Washington contributed to this story.

Via China Daily