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Trade war, day 63: Chaos in D.C. deepens trenches even further

The public comment period for a $200 billion package of new tariffs on Chinese good is due to end soon, at midnight September 6. We will then enter the timeframe that Donald Trump is reportedly planning on implementing those tariffs: “as soon as [the] public-comment period concludes.”

We still expect those tariffs to be implemented in the near future, but since a week ago when that timeline was first reported the White House has been in crisis mode, so perhaps the implementation will be delayed (Reuters indicates that “the timing is uncertain”). Along with a soon-to-be-released bookdocumenting chaos in the White House by veteran journalist Bob Woodward, an unprecedented anonymous op-ed by a “senior official in the Trump administration”(paywall) in the New York Times yesterday is confirming what many have said about Trump for years:

Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making…

‘There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,’ a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

Noted China watcher Bill Bishop asks(paywall) — and the answer is almost certainly “yes” — “Will Xi take these revelations as further evidence that there is no way to trust any trade deal Trump may agree to, and so there is little point in offering any significant concessions to try to forestall the escalating trade war?”

It may also deepen Trump’s resolve to double down on a hardline stance on trade with China, as he will soon travel the country to drum up support for fellow Republicans in the midterm congressional elections, to be held exactly two months from now on November 6.

“The president views the tariffs as a winning political issue heading into the midterms, despite protests from The Wall Street Journal editorial board, business groups and so-called elites or donors,” Politico reported at the start of the trade war in early July, and there is no indication that Trump’s thinking has changed since then.“A new attitude toward China is rapidly taking shape,” Jake Werner wrote (paywall) in Foreign Policy a month ago, documenting how bipartisan support for hardline moves against China on trade have increased, not decreased, since the start of the trade war.It’s notable that “trade is one of the rare ‘crossover issues’ that appeals as much to Bernie Sanders’ Democrats as it does to the president’s core political base,” as Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Tom Mitchell and others have reminded us recently.This means that a hard trade stance will likely outlast the congressional midterms in two months, no matter the outcome.

For a roundup of more trade war news, please click through to SupChina.

—Lucas Niewenhuis


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