90 Miles From Tyranny : China Is Losing the Trade War With Trump

Thursday, August 2, 2018

China Is Losing the Trade War With Trump

It’s like a drinking contest: You harm yourself and hope your opponent isn’t able to withstand as much.

One thing came through loud and clear in President Trump’s press conference Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. When they announced an alliance against third parties’ “unfair trading practices,” they didn’t even have to mention China by name for listeners to know who their target was. Cooperation between the U.S. and EU will squeeze China’s protectionist model, and even before this agreement, there’s been evidence that China is already running up the white flag.

Yes, China is acting tough in one sense, quickly imposing tariffs in retaliation for those enacted by the Trump administration. But while U.S. stocks approach all-time highs and the dollar grows stronger, Chinese stocks are in a bear market, down 25% since January. The yuan had its worst single month ever in June, and is well on its way to a repeat this month. Chinese corporate bonds have defaulted at a record rate in the past six months, yet this week China unveiled a new stimulus program designed to encourage even more corporate borrowing.

That’s probably why Yi Gang, a governor of the People’s Bank of China, took the extraordinary step of channeling Herbert Hoover, saying in a statement this month that “the fundamentals of China’s economy are sound.” And it’s why Sun Guofeng, head of the PBOC’s financial research institute, said, China “will not make the yuan’s exchange rate a tool to cope with trade conflicts.”

Weakening one’s currency is a standard weapon in trade wars, and one that China has often been accused of using—including in a tweet by Mr. Trump last week. Devaluation would be even more dangerous in this case because of China’s power to dump the $1.4 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities it holds. But by denying its intention to plunge the yuan, China has disarmed itself voluntarily. This was no act of noble pacifism; it had to be done. Devaluing the currency would risk scaring investors away, an existential threat to an emerging economy. For China, whose state-capitalism model has so far never produced a recession, such capital flight might expose previously hidden economic weaknesses.

These weaknesses accumulate without the market discipline that occasional recessions impose. The fragility of China’s economy can be seen in its growth rate, which is slowing despite rising financial leverage, and in its overinvestment in commodities and real estate. The escalating trade war with the U.S. could tip China into the unknown territory of recession—and then capital flight could push it into a financial crash and depression. That would create...Read More HERE

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