‘Maniacal’ focus on China sets Trump aide apart

Matthew Pennington
Associated Press

Washington — White House adviser Steve Bannon isn’t alone in pondering America’s possibly generation-defining question about China’s emerging superpower status — but his call for an “economic war” puts him outside the mainstream.

In an interview reflecting on some of his big-thinking projects, Bannon said the country should be “maniacally focused” on a confrontation with Beijing over who will be the global “hegemon” of the next 25-30 years. The former Breitbart News executive — who works steps from President Donald Trump in the West Wing — told the American Prospect that “the economic war with China is everything.”

For decades, American economists, military strategists and policymakers of all stripes have wrestled with how the United States and China, the world’s biggest and soon-to-be biggest economies, manage differences on trade and security. But no one in a position of power has adopted a strategy that entails the almost messianic zeal of Bannon’s world view.

For good reason, according to advocates of more measured approaches to dealing with China, who argue that an economic war would hurt everyone.

“Steve Bannon’s view is too simplistic and arrogant,” Seattle trade lawyer William Perry declared, saying such talk “could get the U.S. in big trouble.” Bannon’s position is “built around the idea that the United States is the biggest market in the world and everybody has to kowtow to us.”

Bannon’s comments reflect sentiments Trump has channeled on narrowing America’s vast trade deficit with China and bringing manufacturing jobs back home. They also underscore the ways in which the U.S. administration is in conflict with itself on China and other foreign policy issues.

Bannon was stunningly candid about purging rivals from the Defense and State departments who supposedly resist the tough trade line with China. And he contradicted Trump by calling his boss’ bluff on threatening to attack North Korea, saying there is no military solution to the nuclear standoff.

Past U.S. administrations, Republican and Democrat, have cooperated with China since it initiated market-opening reforms more than three decades ago. The Clinton administration, for example, supported China’s World Trade Organization entry in 2001.

But as China’s economic and military might has grown, hopes it would open its markets and play by WTO rules like other rising economies have receded. U.S. views have hardened.