Would Russia and China like to see Trump re-elected?

China yesterday announced retaliatory tariffs on imports from the US.

China threatened to impose additional tariffs on $75 billion of American goods including soybeans, automobiles and oil, in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s latest planned levies on Chinese imports that pushed U.S. stocks and farm commodities lower.

Some of the countermeasures will take effect starting Sept. 1, while the rest will come into effect from Dec. 15, according to the announcement Friday from the Finance Ministry. This mirrors the timetable the U.S. has laid out for 10% tariffs on nearly $300 billion of Chinese shipments.

An extra 5% tariff will be put on American soybeans and crude-oil imports starting next month. The resumption of a suspended extra 25% duty on U.S. cars will resume Dec. 15, with another 10% on top for some vehicles. With existing general duties on autos taken into account, the total tariff charged on U.S. made cars would be as high as 50%.

China’s tariff threats take aim at the heart of Trump’s political support — factories and farms across the Midwest and South at a time when the U.S. economy is showing signs of slowing down. Soybean prices sank to a two-week low.

This move by China sent Trump into a rage. He seems to expect that other countries will meekly accept whatever action he takes against them and always seems surprised that other countries can retaliate both in kind and in other ways. Witness his anger when Iran said that they would cease to abide by some elements of the nuclear deal after he had the US withdraw entirely from it.

In response to China’s actions, he raised by 5% the tariff rates he had already imposed on pretty much all of China’s exports to the US. He was careful to dioit after the stock markets had closed on Friday, since they had already fallen precipitously after China’s announcement on Friday morning. He presumably hopes that the markets will be more stable on Monday.

But Trump did not stop there. He lashed out at Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve whom he had appointed, for not cutting interest rates by a whopping one percent and, for good measure, ordered (yes ordered) American businesses to close their China manufacturing facilities and bring them all back to the US, saying that the US could do without China entirely.

Does Trump really think he can order US companies to do his bidding? It is true that the US president has the ability to exert pressure on businesses but the idea of actually giving orders to American companies (even if prefaced with ‘hereby’, a word which seems beyond his limited vocabulary) seems like just another symptom of Trump’s growing instability and megalomania.

While I am pretty certain that most of the major economic countries (with the possible exception of Boris Johnson) can’t wait for Trump to leave office, I wonder what the leaders of China and Russia think about him. They must surely be having mixed feelings.

On the one hand, they are both leaders of authoritarian countries and such countries tend to value stability and long term planning. Having to deal with an erratic, impulsive, and unstable US president who lurches from one decision to another and is incoherent and lies must be a nightmare for them. That would argue that they would prefer him to leave office in 2020.

On the other hand, the US is their economic and military rival and Trump’s actions are likely to weaken the US because of the divisive internal conflicts he has created along so many social lines and the havoc he is wreaking on its economic structure with his trade wars and reckless tax cuts. That would argue that they might actually welcome having Trump continue for four more years since it gives him more time to do more damage to the US. While Trump’s actions may also cause hardship for them and their own populations economically, they are better able to weather and suppress domestic unrest than the US.


  1. says

    I’ve no doubt Russia would like it, but China? If you had asked me last month I would have said they probably like their increasing influence but might prefer stability for trade. Now though, they’re more likely to get less push back from the US if they crack down on Hong Kong with the Hamberdler as president.

  2. Matt G says

    I spend a certain amount of time in Trump country. People there own America cars, but everything else is Made in China. I’m sure they won’t be hurt at all if the price of Chinese goods go up. And even if they ARE hurt, they won’t blame Trump because He Is On Their Side.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Hard to say. Trump is a maniac but he does not seem to be a warmonger so Russia and China might be happy to have him in the White House. Beats the Cold War warrior Clinton though I must admit that I thought Russia would prefer her to Trump as she was more predictable and they were used to dealing with crazed Cold War idiots.

    Russia and China can deal with tariffs and sanctions. Not fun and not nice but they can be handled.

    In some cases they are popular. Russian agriculture seems delighted with US sanctions. The sanctions seem to have boosted productivity and profits substantially.

    BTW, want to buy an S-400 missile system?

    The real question seems to be, “Why is Trump trying to destroy the US economy?”

  4. Bruce H says

    Personally, I think Putin is probably thrilled by Trump’s performance. He seems to want to remake the USSR in his image, and a united Europe and USA is an impediment to that. Anything that makes America weaker gives Putin greater latitude to do what he wants.

    China is a different story. They seem to mostly be fixated on becoming even more of an economic powerhouse. If the American economy craters, that can only be bad for China. I think they are willing to weather the stormy, uncertain economy produced by Trump’s antics, but would prefer he be replaced by a more stable, smarter autocrat.

    Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. I have been in the past.

  5. Owlmirror says

    Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.

    Can you imagine if Eric and Donald Jr, currently in charge of the Trump Organization, took him at his word (and of course lost money)?

    “But DAD, you SAID TO . . . “

  6. file thirteen says

    Q. If the US and China have a trade war, who wins?
    A. Everyone else.

    Putin will be rubbing his bare chest in glee.

  7. GenghisFaun says

    The question I have is will the U.S. oligarchy even allow him to stay in power when he insists on shutting off their source of cheap goods and labor? Sure, they can put up with any of his bigotry and self aggrandizement because they’re still getting their tax cuts for the rich, and he keeps the rubes in full frothing support of their preferred party. But pulling all business out of China? His sabotage will come swiftly from the true overlords if he doesn’t backtrack. I would be fine with that but, of course, he will just say some incredibly racist and/or ignorant thing to distract the media and his base from yet another failed promise. His existence in power is evidence enough for me that there is no benevolent creator.

  8. Ridana says

    What sanctions do we currently have on Russia? I thought Yap-stupid and McYertle had quashed those? Russian ag is doing fine because China is now buying its soybeans from Russia and Brazil (which is burning down the Amazon to make room for more).

    I think Orange Skull and Snail Slime are doing exactly as Putin has ordered them to do, so duh, he wants four more years to perfect his puppetry skills. China, I’m not so sure about. I think they’re happy he won’t be interfering with any crackdowns on Hong Kong, and may even take the opportunity to go after Taiwan. But by Jan 2021, they’ll have wrapped all that up and will be ready for someone more sane and stable.

    I keep waiting for China to start calling in its markers on all the US debt it currently holds. That’s going to be fun…

  9. lorn says

    Enemies desiring your destruction and potentially having the means, existential threats, are far harder to deal with. Anything leading to their further weakness, as long as it weakens you less, is to be desired. If they cannot be persuaded to stop being an existential threat they must be restrained, contained, and, possibly, destroyed.

    IMHO neither China nor Russia are anything but potential existential threats. AFAIK neither has a history of passionately longing to remove us, or most of our allies, from the planet. They seek to be secure, to prosper, to even dominate (as many within the US also do) but they are more rightly classified as rivals, not enemies.

    In that context, and I assume this framing is indeed obvious and to be preferred to both of them, a predictable, principled and humane rival is far better than an unpredictable, unprincipled and vicious ally.

    I grew up in a navy town and there were a steady string of small favors and lifesaving maneuvers between the US and Russian navies that seldom made the news. Mariners operate in an inherently hostile environment and failing to come to the aid of a ship in trouble is a violation of human norms and international law. So accommodations are made. Sometimes quietly so as to not alarm the various chains of command or damage the reputation of the fleet.

    I suspect that while all three nations have hard-liners willing to do their damnedest to harm rivals they see as enemies the sane and stable majority understand that weakening or destabilizing rivals too much can have unpredictable consequences. Hitler was able to come to power because Germany was economically and politically crippled by reparation after WWI. Throw in the Russian revolution and consequent political turmoil, American fascism, the lack of response to the Armenian Genocide, and the world-wide economic shock of the Great Depression and it seems clear that Germany ended up suffering more and was made far less stable than was good for anyone. The economic chaos and political vacuum was ripe for exploitation by a strong man with few boundaries or scruples.

    As to China’s fighting a trade war I think Trump has been trapped by thinking it is only he who can operate ‘outside the box’ In the US Trump profited by being rude, bullying, and taking advantage of legal and functional loopholes. He flouting business, legal, and social norms when it advantaged him to do so. Against a rival with serious political, military and economic strength, and while international laws remain constrained mostly by norms or largely unenforceable international laws, it is Trump that is constrained while China can easily operate ‘outside the box’.

    International trade and relations are constrained in how radically they can be changed if he stops short of war. Trump still has to operate through established structures economically and diplomatically. The possibility that he might not stop short of war is a vote by China and Russia to get Trump out of there. It could all get very real, very fast. The military has been contemplating what it will do if ordered to do something radical. Smartly following lawful orders is the textbook answer. Yes … But can you clarify why this is a lawful order and not just mass murder and national suicide … A few hours of delay is the more acceptable standard. At least it is with a petulant, irrational, vindictive child like Trump in charge.

    A few thought on trade wars: The vast majority of Chinese are only a generation or two away from being destitute rural peasants. They could go back to the farms. It isn’t alien to them. There would be unrest but China has very strong domestic control systems. The US is far more vulnerable to civil unrest, economic shocks and infrastructure breakdowns. China could survive simply stopping all trade with the US and recall all the ships. Walmart, Target, Amazon, and most of the other retailers and suppliers would shut down in days. Unemployment would skyrocket. The factories in China would also close. Hardship all round. But it seems to me that China is in a far better position to remain intact politically and economically.

    China killed thousands in Tienanmen Square in 1989, possible tens of thousands across China, and it is mostly forgotten only thirty years later. In 1992 (27 years ago) Bill Clinton beat the incumbent president and presumed front-runner George H. W. Bush in a fair election and 35% of Americans will let it go only after they die. The Chinese leadership knows how to stay in power and ride out periods of unrest.

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