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US-China trade talks, tariffs, and Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy

Is Trump’s manner of ‘deal making’ ‘winning’ the day?

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After Trump declared that doing business with China was bad business and bad for the US, because of America’s trade deficit with China and China’s alleged ‘unfair’ business practices, he levied tariffs on Chinese imports, which were quickly followed by Chinese retaliatory measures, which the US then countered with yet another round of tariffs.

After the game played out for roughly another two months, the two parties decided to come to the table and try to hash out their differences. Washington and Beijing have apparently agreed to back off on the tariff threats, America, if China buys more American stuff, and the Chinese, if America backs off on its punitive tariffs.

But what’s the story here, and is this even really addressing the problems that were cited by Trump when he decided to introduce the tariffs in the first place?

CNBC observes:

Triumphant tones coming from the White House over the weekend are inconsequential, Moody’s chief economist said Monday, deflating hopes that the U.S. is gaining major ground in its negotiations with China aimed at averting a trade war.

“I think it’s a lose-lose. There are no winners here,” Mark Zandi told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday. “This is face-saving, because clearly they’re not going come to terms on anything — at least, not in the near-team.”

Zandi was referring to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s announcement Sunday that a looming trade war was “on hold” as the world’s two largest economies agreed to drop their tariff threats and discuss parameters for a wider trade agreement.

China consented to continue discussing measures under which it would purchase more U.S. products in order to reduce the $335 billion annual trade deficit between the two, but no specific dollar number was put forward. Zandi pointed to this as evidence that neither Washington nor Beijing had a plan, nor did either know what it specifically was they wanted from the ongoing talks.

“When you get right down to it, what exactly are they going to do? Are they going lower the Chinese-U.S. bilateral trade deficit? It’s just not going to happen. They’re kicking it down the road because they really don’t know what they want,” Zandi said.

‘A silly debate argument’
President Donald Trump had initially set out a demand that China close its trade surplus by $200 billion, to which Beijing has not acquiesced. Zandi criticized this figure, noting that U.S. exports to China are currently $150 billion annually, and that it doesn’t have the capacity to produce and export that scale of increase in goods to China.

“What’s that going to buy? For $200 billion?” the economist asked. “We don’t want to sell them technology, where our comparative advantage is, so we’re going to sell them $200 billion more of what? Soybeans? Boeing aircraft?”

Trade experts have argued that Chinese demand for these U.S. products will not sufficiently increase to the point where it would need to purchase such a volume of American goods.

Zandi added that the discussions should have instead been focused on structural issues like intellectual property (IP) protection for investors, echoing the sentiment of many economists that the trade deficit figure should not be the focus of the U.S.-China trade relationship.

“America wants the Chinese to buy $200 billion more of what America produces, but it’s neither here nor there when it comes to protecting IP rights, which is really what we should be focused on here,” he said. “I think it’s a silly debate argument that is going to end up nowhere.”

Other experts have warned that a deal with China focused on a dollar figure for trade is not a sustainable solution in the long term. Frank Lavin, a former U.S. under-secretary of commerce for international trade, told CNBC on Monday that a narrow focus on the trade imbalance misses the more pertinent issues at hand.

“If they (China) give you a check, watch out. They’re sort of buying you off and getting you just to go away for that money, so be careful of that,” Lavin said. “I’d say focus more on structural changes, getting market opening, fair treatment, level playing field, IP (intellectual property) issues, investment protection.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer made this point Sunday, saying in a statement: “Real structural change is necessary. Nothing less than the future of tens of millions of American jobs is at stake.”

‘Fruitful and efficient’
Administration officials, meanwhile, touted the progress as a positive for the U.S., and markets have reacted positively to the news.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He described the talks as “pragmatic, fruitful and efficient,” a marked shift from more negative sentiment earlier in the week that led Trump to say Thursday that he “doubted” the trade negotiations would succeed.

A joint statement from the weekend’s meetings said: “To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services.” The purchase increases are said to be predominantly in the agricultural and energy sectors.

Talks between U.S. and Chinese officials have been underway in recent weeks following a rapid escalation in tensions between the two economic powerhouses.

Trump has long criticized China’s growing trade surplus with the U.S., and in March set off a trade spat by proposing import tariffs on a number of Chinese goods. The move set off a tit-for-tat dispute with a series of threats from each country that proposed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tariffs on each other’s goods, sparking fears of a global trade war.

Essentially, the Trump administration is saying to the Chinese ‘look, we might pull back on those tariffs that you don’t seem to like all that much if you decide to be a good country and buy more of our stuff’, which the Chinese appear to be receiving quite well. Cough up $200 billion more to send to America and the tariffs go away.

But how does this really address the underlying reasons why Trump imposed the tariffs to begin with? As the CNBC article points out, this initial understanding does not meaningfully address China’s ‘unfair’ business practices, namely the alleged theft of intellectual property from American firms as a condition for market access.

But Trump has been on this trade deficit bandwagon lately, and so it seems that if China addresses this, then the US will go its merry way and not be quite as insistent or impose penalties for ‘bad behaviour’.

But $200 billion is still a lot more than the alleged $50 billion that Trump alleged is the monetary figure for stolen intellectual property damage, so that it might seem that China is providing a lot more value to America than it would seem to be getting in return. Is Trump’s manner of ‘deal making’ ‘winning’ the day?

And if the reason why those tariffs were imposed in the first place isn’t experiencing a resolution, then are we to conclude that the reasoning provided by the Trump admin to impose them initially were entirely bogus?

Can we chalk them up to America pursuing a course of action as a ‘retaliation’ for something that they really don’t view as a priority, meaning that America is being dishonest with the international community?

An outsider looking at this situation may conclude that Trump didn’t really care about China’s business practices, and this was all really about the trade deficit.

Politically, however, China still wouldn’t be being a ‘good country’ if it really moved forward on this because of the economic initiatives that it has been erecting throughout Asia, which the US has perceived as a threat to America’s security.

It doesn’t contemplate China’s increasing economic and military cooperation with another ‘bad guy’ nation, Russia.

And what about China’s economic ties with Iran, which America has deemed a state sponsor of terror? After all, China just opened a rail link with Iran, promised to help them with their nuclear development, and is set to expand commerce with Iran the near future.

What about China’s ‘nefarious’ activities in the South China Sea?

How about the manner in which China is ‘influencing’ Kim Jong Un and the North Korean peace process?

What about China’s attempt to compete with the US petrodollar with its new petroyuan, potentially undermining the value of the dollar’s position on the global market?

None of this jives with America’s foreign policy interests, so that it really can’t be conceived that America is just going to stand by and watch as China increases its international political and economic prowess.

A couple of different possibilities arise as to how and why the negotiations are taking place now, before all of America’s tariffs come into effect, and why America seems to be willing to settle for so little. Clearly, Trump is not intending to use this as a way of settling the multitude of issues and conflict of national interests in these trade talks.

Perhaps Washington is realizing that it can’t afford a prolonged trade war with one of its largest trading partner, which shifts China’s focus to supplementing its market with goods from other nations that don’t fit Washington’s interests, such as Russia. Or, perhaps Trump is attempting to pass off a reduction of a trade deficit as a victory, in order to say to the public that he is accomplishing yet another election promise, as a part of his disjointed foreign policy.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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