'Chosen one' fights two enemies

Editorial | Mary Ma 26 Aug 2019

If US President Donald Trump is the "chosen one" - as he proclaims - what could he have been chosen for?

He's absolutely a cause of grave concern, as much as the Amazon rainforest fire endangering the world's environment.

Probably realizing he's not the Messiah, Trump later corrected himself to say it was meant sarcastically to drive home the strong message he had for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Trump is surely not the Messiah - in fact, he could be just the opposite: a two-bit phony.

His tirade of tweets amid a fury before the weekend instantly deepened a crisis that's already extremely complicated.

As the United States and China continue to search their trade arsenals for more powerful weapons to force each other to bend the knee, it's likely resorting to such firepower will escalate, even if both sides keep their vow to meet for further trade talks next month.

China's latest salvo of new tariffs on US$75 billion (HK$585 billion) of American products, for instance, is being trained at Trump's voting base, affecting shipments of soybeans, lobsters, peanut butter, etc.

Beijing's intent is direct. As it becomes increasingly unlikely for a trade deal to be reached anytime soon and, worse still, there may be even more trouble following should Trump be re-elected president next year. It's no longer good enough for Beijing to wait out the storm, but to take the offensive to undercut his political capital in states where he had won big in 2016.

However, it's far too early to say whether the new tariffs against American farmers would hit them hard enough to initiate a telling wave of defection in those Republican-controlled states.

In retaliation, Trump may shift to even more poisonous rhetoric to depict China as dangerously as possible to galvanize support from his followers. The self-proclamation of being the "chosen one" may be mocked by the US media, but could appeal to his faithful.

Even if the two countries' negotiators continue to meet for trade talks as planned, they're unlikely to make progress because, as Beijing stiffens its position, Washington won't step down from tariffs already imposed, since easing them without a victorious note would be political suicide for Trump.

Ahead of Trump is a journey of no return as he edges closer to the 2020 presidential election. He must win a second term to avoid repercussions.

US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell's speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was balanced in tone, leaving the possibility open to further cut interest rates. It's pretty amazing that Trump felt so disappointed with Powell's speech that he fired off another tweet to ask whether the Fed chairman was a greater enemy than the Chinese.

Although he's the US commander-in-chief, Trump isn't empowered to "order" American companies to leave China.

But he has plenty of tools to produce a similar effect, such as raising import tariffs and blacklisting firms doing China business. As trade tension mounts, many foreign companies are already moving out of China due to commercial considerations.

Perhaps, Trump is issuing a warning that he would grab Xi as he falls off the political cliff together if he had to.

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