Symphony

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 2, 2018

China and the US have fixed their rudders on a ramming course. The only remaining question will be over whose hull is stronger.

The "yuge" US trade deficit with China is purported to be $375B USD. Bloomberg was sure to point out that the figure is inflated, some way or another. Xinhua news reports that a more accurate figure is a mere $298B USD deficit. Trump sent a "Section 301" notice of unfair trade tactics to China along with $50–60B USD in tariffs, depending on which news source you read. Trump also asked China to reduce the deficit by a whopping $100B USD and China says that the US is being unfair, placing tariffs on US food.

Asian markets are up, but a Caixin market index—something like a DOW Jones average in China—isn't up as much as hoped. Everyone has an opinion on what all that means.

Companies in America believe that tariffs harm the consumer. Some voices argue that the US has a "service" trade surplus with China, but still a deficit overall. Trump argues that trade deficits harm the worker and the overall economy. Basic macro-economic theory would say that workers would afford higher prices with much higher pay.

Trade deficits initiated the Opium Wars with China when China welcomed a one-way flow of silver from Britain for tea, but would not allow the eager Chinese population to import British goods. The Opium Wars ended with surrender of several lands to Britain, including Hong Kong. China's current and main land dispute is over Taiwan. The stage is set for history to repeat and so far it has.

Taiwan is certainly chumming up to the US as China attempts to endear the Taiwanese. Most recently, Taiwan is buying more advanced missiles from the US while two Senators advocate selling F-35s to Taiwan—a sale more likely since Taiwan's current administration is unlikely to set up secret talks with China as the rival party attempted nearly four years ago. China banned Taiwanese movies casting a purportedly pro-independence Taiwanese actor, Lawrence Ko.

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Symphony

Cadence of Conflict: Asia, February 27, 2017

Americans love flags. The over-sized flag, the “Star Spangled Banner”, was a strategic tool of Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore and the US national anthem itself is named after the flag. If the United States ever truly intended to communicate that it believes Beijing seats the rightful government over the island of Taiwan, then Washington DC would have demanded that Taiwan fly the Chinese Communist flag over its own flag, like Hong Kong does. But, it didn’t and they didn’t ask. The test of what Donald Trump thinks about China is not a question of how many times he sees the word “China” on his globe at home, but what flags he accepts flown where.

Is China wise to what’s going on? Perhaps money is making all the difference. China’s PLA Navy is headed for an increased budget. If money was China’s answer, perhaps money tipped-off Beijing in the first place.

According to Obama Treasury rules, China is only 1/3 of a “currency manipulator”, exceeding a $20B trade deficit with the States. The other two rules relate inflation to GDP and official currency purchases to GDP—two things where China plays by a different set of rules than American economics. China “declares” its own currency value, it is not determined by the markets, making what the US refers to as “inflation” irrelevant to China. The second irrelevant Obama rule relates to “official” currency purchases. If only economics were only affected by “official” purchases, many other economic problems would be solved. But, economies are affected by “actual” purchasing, not merely whatever we happen to label as “official” this decade. The Chinese, especially, are experts at looking good “officially” while doing the bulk of their work under the table. Why else would Asians be so focused on cram schools and testing?

Then, there is the task of calculating “GDP” in a heavy back-and-forth trade economy. In 2011, the US slapped tariffs on China-made solar panels, which were made with materials imported from the US, which China also slapped a tariff on. Not only is actual “domestic” product difficult to measure in a “Venn diagram” of overlapping markets, there is also the problem that China’s government behaves like a company itself—benefiting from tariff revenue, thereby triggering another slew of investing and purchasing opportunities. If economics were a pair of glasses, China operates in ultraviolet light that no pair of US lenses can detect.

So, not only were the Obama Treasury “currency manipulator” rules an attempt to measure the light with a wind sensor, Trump gets what Trump wants. If China is destined for the “currency manipulator” list, it will get on that list one way or another, and there is a laundry list of ways that can happen.

But, then, there is North Korea.

While the “experts” lecture the world about how “trade wars” always backfire, China harbors its own trade war with the government in Northern Korea. Kim Jong Un isn’t happy with Beijing and Beijing wants to talk about it with the US.

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