August 25, 2019

YES. Trump is playing a long game on China.

Once supply chains move out of China, it will be difficult to get them back. Moving production out of a country can be expensive and time consuming — as can moving it back.

This flight out of China presents a severe long-term challenge for its totalitarian government, which relies on rapid economic growth and rising living standards to provide some legitimacy for its dictatorial rule. But, as the Chinese Communist Party has increasingly scaled back the free market reforms that got its economy going in the first place, it has been forced to prop up its economy with its escalating “techno-nationalism” and outright theft of technology from American companies.

Now, the party is scrambling just to keep the economy from further contracting in the face of tariffs in their largest export market, the United States — and the longer-term impact of companies moving their supply chains outside of China. Beijing has already been forced to unleash a new round of subsidies in hopes of propping up their deteriorating economy until after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Unfortunately for China, that plan is not working.

And this, as I’ve suggested before, is why Trump tweeted. My take is that Trump tweeted, rather than making the required declaration and order to have legal effect under IEEPA, because his goal is to spread FUD among the Chinese and the companies doing business with them, encouraging companies to shift their supply chains away from China without doing anything drastic or subject to legal challenge. That’s consistent with his approach to date. An actual declaration and order would have drastic effects and spur a drastic Chinese response. Here, well, as they say, the value of the Sword of Damocles is that it hangs, not that it falls.

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