Escobar: Sun Tzu And The Art Of Fighting A Trade War

Escobar: Sun Tzu And The Art Of Fighting A Trade War by Pepe Escobar – The Burning Platform

It will be long, it will be nasty and Trump would be foolish to underestimate Xi and the resolve of China…

Imagine the Chinese leadership out of the public eye for nearly two weeks – virtually holed up, immersed in a secret debate. That is exactly what just happened at Beidaihe, the beach resort in eastern Hebei province.

While there might be James Bond-ish conspiracy theories out there for this annual ritual, there are no doubts about the key theme of discussions: The US-China trade war.

The second-largest world economy under President Xi Jinping is deep into the long march towards superpower status. The previous geopolitical and geoeconomic status quo is dead.

Xi has made it abundantly clear that for China to just become a “responsible stakeholder” in the post-Cold War US-controlled liberal international order is not enough.

It did not escape the notice of the senior leadership at Beidaihe of the change of direction by the US. President Donald Trump’s administration is taking a belligerent approach while the US National Security Strategy in December 2017 unmistakably labeled China a “revisionist power,” a strategic rival and for all practical purposes, from the Pentagon’s point of view, a top threat.

Instead, what the Beijing leadership identifies is what we could define, in Chinese culture terminology, as the “three threats.”

A threat to their foreign policy concept for the coming decades, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, and a threat to China’s own integration drive centered on the three strategic zones of the Greater Bay Area, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei corridor and the Yangtze river delta. And, of course, a threat to the Chinese stock market.

State media is still grappling on how to deal with it. The People’s Daily has, politely, defined the Trump administration’s strategy as “engagement plus containment.”

China Global Television Network (CGTN) has played the soft power card by addressing a sarcastic letter to Trump. The network thanked him for uniting the rest of the world while forcing China to make its economic environment more seductive to foreign investment. The CGTN video subsequently “disappeared” from YouTube and Twitter.

So, even as the leadership consensus may be this is all about containing China’s irresistible rise, and even considering the fog surrounding major Beijing decisions, it’s still possible to detect some fascinating nuances.

No mercy

For Trump, on the record, “trade wars are good and easy to win.” That reflects his fascination with the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ethos. Trump, in this case, is The Undertaker bent on taking Xi to the woodshed. Xi is no more Mr. Nice Guy, Trump’s former “good friend.”

So, Xi cannot possibly believe that galvanizing the crowd like superhero The Rock will save the day. The WWE is not about “win-win” – that is for losers. Now, it is no holds barred. Trump accuses China of US election interference: “Fools that are so focused on looking only at Russia should start also looking in another direction, China.”

China’s military “adventurism” allows the Pentagon to come up with a Space Force. China is also barred from investing in US industries related to national security.

The US response to the reach of the Belt and Roaf Initiative is to invest in the fuzzy “Indo-Pacific” – by committing a paltry $113 million in energy, infrastructure, and digital commerce. “Made in China 2025” is qualified as an absolute threat to “America First.”

And China is increasingly depicted as “malign” – the buzzword of choice that makes Trump, in this case, fully aligned with the industrial-military-security-think tank complex.

So, how to fight a cage match with no referee? Enter Sun Tzu, China’s legendary military strategist who wrote The Art of War. The first rule is simple: “All warfare is based on deception.” As in Beijing gearing up to negotiate both as a partner and a threat.

‘Outside barbarians’

It will be long, it will be nasty, it will be protracted, going way beyond the talks this week in the US, which importantly do not feature Vice-President Wang “Firefighter” Qishan, a key player and Xi’s trusted consigliere. He is more useful coordinating long-term strategy in Beijing.

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