According to official news agencies, the recent phone call of February 8 last and the subsequent letter by President Trump to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was “long” and “extremely cordial”.
In particular, official sources recall that, just upon the Chinese leader’s request, the US President reaffirmed he would honour the so-called “One China” policy in the US bilateral and multilateral relations, which means that the United States do not oppose – now or in the future – the Chinese ambitions over Taiwan that China still considers the “renegade province.”
As reported by Chinese sources, President Trump also formulated to the Chinese people his wishes for the New Lunar Year – the year of the Rooster, running from January 28, 2017 to February 16, 2018 – and for the upcoming Lantern Festival, celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the new year.
Those who really know how to make foreign policy are always very attentive to symbols and traditions. They are not befuddled by GDP percentages or daily talk, but set great store by the various peoples’ symbols and old traditions, which are the fabric of each State community.
According to Xi Jinping who made his first phone call to President Trump, the two major countries, namely China and the United States, are bound to cooperate to manage the world’s fate. The Chinese leader also defined the substantial and non-formal mainstay of China’s foreign policy in recent years: the reaffirmation of the peaceful, but primary role played by China among all world countries.
The concept of a “win-win” relationship, the cornerstone of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, was expressed – for the first time – by the Chinese President in his speech delivered at the Moscow Institute for International Relations in March 2013.
Later the concept was reiterated and applied in China’s State visits to Serbia, Poland and Uzbekistan last June, as well as in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s 12th Summit – and this is certainly not a coincidence, but a symbol.
In Xi Jinping’s mind, the “win-win” relationship between States can be defined as an organism consisting of a skeleton of political mutual trust, blood vessels of economic cooperation and nerves of cultural exchanges, with concrete cooperation projects as its cellular tissue.
Within this intellectual and political horizon, when the countries develop a clear understanding of the international situation and unite to meet security and economic challenges, they form a community shouldering responsibility together, namely a “responsibility community”. When they respect the various cultures and political systems, they form a group sharing a common fate, namely a “fate community”.
Finally, in Xi Jinping’s mind, a “win-win” relationship enables the traditional multilateral and bilateral treaties to work better.
This will be exactly China’s great offer to the European Union, which is based on three levels: the EU as the nerve centre of world economy, as well as a great Mediterranean region – and, in the future, China will focus on the Mare Nostrum – and finally as a strategic factor for rebalancing Asia, the United States and the emerging countries.
I wish there was – within the European Union – at least some strategic and geopolitical thinking about Europe living up to China’s.
The theory of “win-win” relations also means that China plans to extend its theory of “creative, coordinated and green” development to the rest of the world.
This is exactly the conceptual foundation of the Belt and Road Initiative that Xi Jinping launched by following up Li Keqiang’s policy line during his state visits to Asia and Europe of September and October 2013.
It is worth noting, however, that while Trump only called the Heads of State and Government of allied and friendly States, in the case of Xi Jinping he even wrote a letter – which is clearly a sign of great respect for China and its government.
The tension recently mounted between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister, Turnbull, is the last thing that China wishes to see. In fact, China is very interested in a strategic – and hence economic, political and military – relationship with Australia. In particular, it wants a special link to be created with the United States through that country.
Hence, in Xi Jinping’s mind, America is a factor of stability and multipolar balance, in a Pacific Ocean where China is expanding northwards and is establishing new “win-win” relations and bonds with all coastal countries and with Japan, in particular.
Trump had also alarmed the Chinese government by calling the President of the Republic of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, last December.
Furthermore, Donald Trump repeatedly stated – during the election campaign and after rising to power – he would impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States, by accusing China of artificially devaluing its currency so as to stimulate its exports and “stealing jobs from Americans” – just to recall the terminology used by the future President during the election campaign.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, stated in the Senate that China should not have free access to the artificial islands it built in the South China Sea. He also stated that the United States would anyway protect the free waterways between the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea.
However, is it true that China manipulates its currency?
Let us see whether this is true.
The (Chinese) capital is fleeing the country because international investors – and many of these are also Chinese – are not optimistic about the future of the Chinese economy.
The pace of growth is slow, the lowest rate in 25 years. A reduced growth rate, which is recorded for many good and useful reasons. In fact, the government is reducing the interest rate of government bonds and is also cooling real estate prices, as well as implementing reforms that will reduce excess production capacity and increase the production efficiency of public companies.
Hence a vicious cycle has been triggered off, which shows that the market is not suitable for playing the role of supreme judge of economies.
Therefore investors are selling yuan and buying US dollars or other hard currencies. This creates downward pressure on the yuan exchange rate, which further stimulates the sale of Chinese currency and the purchase of US dollars and other hard currencies.
If there is capital fleeing the country, the yuan lowers its exchange rate, as always happens in these cases.
Since the time of double devaluation in August 2015, 1.2 trillion US dollars have left China. The Chinese currency reserves dropped by as many as 800 billion dollars in two years, just to defend the yuan parity – dollars obviously sold only to support the yuan.
Over time, the Chinese government has blocked the companies’ yuan transfers until rebalancing revenue and expenditure. It has also restricted the purchase of foreign currency by Chinese traders and businessmen, stimulated State enterprises to sell foreign currency and blocked the use of credit cards up 5,000 US dollars of spending.
These efforts now seem to be successful.
The latest data shows that capital is coming back to China and, therefore, the currency value should stabilize quickly.
Hence it is true that the Chinese government is “manipulating” its currency – although rescuing its reforms, economic stability and domestic policy – but said manipulation takes place upwards and not downwards. Therefore there is no yuan devaluation which favours Chinese exports in the United States or in the rest of the world.
Furthermore, it is worth recalling that the accusations of currency manipulation were also typical of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
It is also worth recalling, however, that the Sino-US trade deficit is currently 232.25 billion dollars and that this is a problem that must be solved anyway.
In other words, the government keeps the yuan value “up”, thus de facto subsidizing imports from China.
Furthermore, China needs to provide jobs to a much greater mass of unemployed people than the US workforce and it does not want to encourage downward competition by Japan, India or Vietnam.
Moreover, Donald Trump’s economic positions, or what the Republican candidate maintained during the election campaign, are such as to strengthen the dollar, while the US economy is still the locomotive of global recovery.
And we assume it will remain so for long time.
In Trump’s mind, the maximum income tax rate will be 33% as against the current 39.6%; the real estate tax will be abolished altogether but, anyway, no company shall pay over 15% of their income in taxes.
On the other hand, however, there will no longer be domestic tax havens or tax tricks and stratagems, which has greatly alarmed many traditional voters and especially funders of the Republican Party.
Moreover, President Trump has threatened China also with regard to intellectual property and subsidies to exports he deems illegal.
Another theme in common with the previous Administration. In partial contradiction with these opinions, Trump has also supported the idea of transforming the United States into a more attractive country for foreign investment than China itself, by also trying to reduce the US public debt so as to avoid the hidden pressure of China, which is still the largest holder of US Treasury Bonds.
However, as international economic experts show, the United States record an aggregate trade surplus with 20 of the countries with which they have trade agreements, while 1 billion US dollars worth of exports supports approximately 6,000 US jobs, bearing in mind the fact that the jobs resulting from export activities are paid, on average, 18% more than the others.
Hence, finally President Trump will greatly change the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), i.e. the trade agreement between the United States, Brunei, Australia, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
However, currently the export tariffs of North American products to Asia are too high and the cooling of the TTP would largely favour only China.
No one in Trump’s administration likes TTP and the President prefers bilateral trade agreements rather than multipolar economic alliances.
Hence the paradox of the bilateral situation between the United States and China is the following: if the yuan rises – as it is expected to happen soon – the US dollar will fall significantly and it will be easier for President Trump to stimulate US exports.
And, for the law of unintended consequences, the freezing of TTP could become the primary stimulus to the recovery of the Chinese economy.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France