Donald Trump』s latest China tariff threat is just bluster


US president Donald Trump has said that trade wars are easy to win. Reality is usually far messier. The chances are that he was bluffing when he threatened on Sunday to escalate tariffs on Chinese imports this coming Friday — two days after a 100-strong Chinese delegation was due to arrive in Washington for what was billed as the closing phase of a US-China trade deal.

美國總統唐納德•特朗普(Donald Trump)曾表示,貿易戰很容易打贏。現實通常亂糟糟得多。他在周日發出的威脅,即在本周五,也就是一個百餘人的中國代表團原定將抵達華盛頓、舉行被標榜為美中貿易協議最後階段談判的兩天後,提高針對中國輸美商品的關稅,有很大可能是在虛張聲勢。

Now the Chinese may not come at all, or arrive in smaller numbers. Few countries, let alone emerging global powers, like to negotiate under duress.


China will have to weigh the risk of losing face if it shows up against the spectre of a dramatic escalation in the US-China trade war if it does not. Mr Trump, on the other hand, has shown that he will readily swap a stance of 「maximum pressure」 for a Taylor Swift-style 「Love Story」 as caprice demands.

中國將不得不作出一個權衡:如果其代表團如期赴美談判,它將有失去面子的風險;而如果其代表團不來,它將面對美中貿易戰戲劇性升級的幽靈。另一方面,特朗普已表明,他隨時可能心血來潮,將「最大壓力」立場轉換為泰勒•斯威夫特(Taylor Swift)風格的「愛情故事」(Love Story)。

Just ask North Korea』s Kim Jong Un. Their relationship went from mutual threats of fire and fury to an exchange of teenage-esque romantic letters before they had even met. Yet the North Korea situation is now almost back to square one.

只要問一問朝鮮的金正恩(Kim Jong Un)就會明白。他與特朗普之間的關係從「火與怒」的相互威脅,到兩人尚未見面之前就交換青少年情書般的浪漫信件。然而,朝鮮局勢現在差不多已回到原點。

The differences between the US and China are almost as insoluble. Mr Trump wants China to dismantle its Made in China 2025 policy that seeks to have the country catch up with the west in 10 different areas by 2025 and dominate artificial intelligence by 2030. This is not merely an economic goal. It is President Xi Jinping』s signature national security strategy for China』s emergence as a global power.

美國和中國之間的分歧幾乎是同樣不可解決的。特朗普希望中國撤銷其《中國製造2025》(Made in China 2025)政策,該政策旨在到2025年使中國在10個關鍵領域趕上西方,到2030年主導人工智慧領域。這不僅是一個經濟目標。這是中國國家主席習近平讓中國崛起為全球大國的標誌性國家安全戰略。

It is thought that Mr Trump』s latest Twitter outburst was prompted by China』s move to water down its promises to cut subsidies to its state-owned enterprises. Beijing may still be promising to purchase vast amounts of soyabeans and other US commodities to reduce the bilateral trade deficit, but the real prize is to alter China』s strategic course.


Mr Trump has two reasons to keep the pressure on China to the maximum. First, US growth is relatively strong and the equity market is doing well. That gives him greater leeway to threaten a trade war without killing America』s animal spirits. Had US growth slowed in the first quarter, as many were predicting, Mr Trump』s ire would be directed at Jay Powell, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve. But the drop last Friday of US joblessness to a 49-year low, and an annualised growth rate of 3.2 per cent in the first quarter, gave Mr Trump the confidence to step up the game of bluff with China.

特朗普有兩個理由對中國保持最大壓力。首先,美國經濟增長相對強勁,股市表現良好。這使他有更大的迴旋餘地來威脅打一場貿易戰,而不至於扼殺美國的「動物精神」。如果像很多人預測的那樣,美國經濟在第一季度增長放緩,特朗普怒火的矛頭將指向美聯儲(Federal Reserve)主席傑伊•鮑威爾(Jay Powell)。但上周五發布的美國失業率降至49年最低水平,而第一季度年化增長率達到3.2%,這讓特朗普有信心升級針對中國的虛張聲勢遊戲。

Second, Mr Trump has staked his reputation on eliminating the trade deficit with China. Most economists consider that goal to be unattainable — and undesirable. Moreover, Mr Trump』s claim that China picks up the tab for the tariffs on its imports is far-fetched. Those costs are borne by US consumers.


Either way, Mr Trump has boxed himself into a corner. He has promised something he cannot force China to deliver. That is without mentioning the near-impossibility of persuading Mr Xi to abandon his Made in China 2025 drive.


So what will happen next? China has had two-and-a-half years of watching Mr Trump make extravagant threats that he fails to follow through. Mr Kim is exhibit A. Simply by agreeing to meet Mr Trump, North Korea』s leader transformed his rhetoric.


Recent history suggests that all Mr Xi needs to do is make a few grand promises but keep the details hazy. That — and a pledge to seal the deal in Mar-a-Lago — should be enough to mollify Mr Trump.