Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports that in Trump’s final weeks in office the president plans to unveil a series of “hardline policies” on China with the ultimate aim of making it “politically untenable for the Biden administration to change course.”
Very much akin to ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran, where the administration has also slapped any and all sanctions possible in order to try and make a Biden presidency’s attempt to restore US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) near impossible, Trump wants to hem in the coming Biden administration and the ability for a Sino-US relations detente on a range of things like the Taiwan issue to China’s intervention in Hong Kong to human rights to Chinese tech as a backdoor for spying.
Swan writes, “He’ll try to make it politically untenable for the Biden administration to change course as China acts aggressively from India to Hong Kong to Taiwan, and the pandemic triggers a second global wave of shutdowns.”
While according to Axios’ sources it won’t necessarily entail dramatic moves like further closures of Chinese consulates in the US, it will likely take the form of a continued pressure campaign detailing in public “China’s nefarious actions” in the US:
“Watch for National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe to publicly describe in granular detail intelligence about China’s nefarious actions inside the U.S.,” writes Swan.
Further the administration plans to spotlight Chinese labor practices and pervasive human rights abuses, and move more hawkish policy officials into key US government positions.
The White House is also said to be already mulling the expansion of last week’s published list that was subject of an executive order banning Americans from investing in 31 Chinese companies which support in some way China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot summarized the political end goal of Trump’s China actions to Axios: “Unless Beijing reverses course and becomes a responsible player on the global stage, future U.S. presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions,” he said.
Raymond James’s Ed Mills listed fresh options likely being mulled by the Trump administration, according to Bloomberg First Word:
- Withdrawing from the Phase One trade agreement with potential tariff escalation
- Entity listings for more Chinese firms, potentially including Ant financial
- Capital markets delisting orders targeting Chinese companies out of compliance with PCAOB auditing standards
- Orders seeking Covid-19-related damages from China
- Added restrictions on commercial transactions in information and communications technology and services
- Sanctions on Chinese oil companies for violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran
- Escalating human rights and geopolitical pressure on China, like harder language on Xinjiang, upgraded relations with Taiwan, penalties on Chinese officials related to Hong Kong
Meanwhile, on Sunday China was among 15 Asia-Pacific nations to sign the biggest free trade deal the region has ever seen – namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP – which has been eight years in the making.
A coda for Trump’s foreign policy: shun the ASEAN summit three years in a row and see our allies join China to form the world’s largest trading bloc. Protecting American interests takes actual work—and showing up. https://t.co/9zbhP507bK
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) November 15, 2020
China’s Premier Li Keqiang was cited in state media as hailing a “victory against protectionism” and in international media reports it is being called “a coup for China” which will bolster Chinese claims that it remains a “champion of globalization and multilateral cooperation”.
Thus Trump’s pressure campaign and trade war has in the end done little to isolate the PRC, which a Biden presidency is expected to seek to soften. But time will tell if these looming last ditch moves of escalation by Trump will indeed force a hard line out of the next administration as intended.