China and the US have been in a public, angry dispute about the state of trade affairs. President Xi Jinping and other official Chinese Communist Party news outlets and members have attacked the US, Trump, and US farmers.
I have said that all of these statements are irrelevant and one should ignore them because the reality is that China is in a unsolvable predicament due to the state of her economic agreements with the US, the current financial situation, and her inability to manage food production with respect to her population. The Chinese government may hold a tremendous amount of US debt, but the holding of debt as a creditor is as only as good as the ability of the ability to compel the debtor to pay.
In most cases, the debtor is taken to court and forced to pay following a lawsuit. However, who can the Chinese go to in order to enforce this debt in a court? There is nobody, and the fact that the US is the most powerful nation on the planet with the strongest military means that she IS the law. The Chinese could attempt a military strike at her, but his would end in disaster due to the fact that she is not as powerful as the US and the US already has been preparing for Chinese military action, but more important is that such a strike would mean, barring an absolute victory, the complete inability to recover the money owed to her from the US. This would be worsened by the fact that the US controls the world’s financial reserve currency, and with that can not only subvert the world financial market if she wished, but also could pay any debts that she wants to by printing money. Thus the US could service any debt that she wants to, theoretically, by printing the money (either on paper or through electronic creation) into worthlessness. It does not help China to collect a pile of money that has no value.
The other major issue is food. The Chinese government has a terrible history of land mismanagement, and the reason why there are so many western-backed dumps for toxic waste and other dangerous pollutants in China, something which the Chinese have agreed to accept in order to get money, is because the US and her allies are poisoning the arable land in that nation, thus making it harder for her to grow food and to rely more on western imports, which in the case of a war with the west means that a large part of her food supply will be cut off and her people will starve. As governments throughout history know, starving people make for very bad soldiers, as their allegiances will go with the person who gives them a meal.
The CCP leadership and media outlets are known for making bold statements and threats against the US. However, the realities of agriculture and economics are against them and they know it. Their cries are but the Chinese variant of Germanic deception or Slavic bluffing, except that instead of appearing to be strong, threatening, or capricious, it appears to be the incoherent ramblings of an angry Chinese man waving his arms in the face of his inability to do anything about his current state of affairs, only to be met with silence, nodding his head, and turning back to his door and going inside his house.
This just happened recently after Trump called China’s bluff on the Hong Kong bill, where in spite of a stern verbal protest overnight in which China’s Foreign Ministry said that it would take strong countermeasures if the US continues to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy after Trump signed the Bill that supports HK protesters, as well as threatening that US attempts to interfere in HK are doomed to fail, Beijing has done nothing really, and instead left the door open for a trade deal with the U.S., confirming again that China needs the trade deal with the US just as much as Trump, if not more.
The build up certainly was dramatic: for days after Congress almost unanimously passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last week, China repeatedly vowed it would take unspecified countermeasures if Trump signed the bill, fueling concerns that President Xi Jinping would scuttle the trade talks to appear tough on the U.S. In the end, China did nothing: Wednesday’s bill signing by Mr. Trump came and went without any real action.
Instead, as the WSJ notes, “Chinese officials shifted their focus to whether the U.S. president would implement any of the bill’s measures, according to officials involved in economic policy-making.” Specifically, to save face, Beijing seized on a sentence in Trump’s statement that emphasized his “constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations.” (source)
Of course the Chinese were not going to do anything, because what can they do? This does not mean to say what China might want to do, for there are lots of things that people and by extension countries, which are (supposed to be) the collective expression of the will of a people, do for their own interests. However, there is also the reality as to what can be done, and China knows that at this point, unless they can verbally scare the US through threats into submission, all they can do is bow their heads and try to figure out how to position themselves better in the future.
It is like a letter of threats from a lawyers but without actually filing a suit. A lawyer can threaten whatever he wants, but until a case is filed, assuming the lawyer actually has a case that can be made, then everything is just threats.
Beijing protested US law on HK but did little else. Instead, officials are betting Trump won’t actually implement the law if he wants a trade deal with China. They focused on the White House statement reaffirming POTUS’s “constitutional authorities”
Or as the WSJ summarized, for all its huffing and puffing, “China’s leadership still wants a deal to help alleviate pressure on its fast-weakening economy”, which incidentally coincides with Trump’s own interest as he hopes to clinch a deal to boost his re-election bid.
Hope is all that China has left in her serious arsenal of weapons against the US, be they military or economic. At this point, until the trade deficit with the US is balanced and China is able to sufficiently diversify her food supply, both of which will be difficult to impossible to accomplish even over a decade, the US holds control over her because all she has to do is to pull away from China and her society, be it economically, financially, or food security, will collapse.
Indeed, as the WSJ’s Lingling Wei also notes, Trump “Trump also chose the evening before Thanksgiving to sign the measure, a time guaranteed to get little attention in the U.S. While his signature still makes the bill law, his timing suggests he was trying to play down the political impact at home.
And since the actual implementation of the bill wold not take place for over half a year, when it comes to China it is now officially in the rearview mirror as Beijing has moved the goalpost not to responding to Trump’s signing of the bill, but to Washington’s actual implementation.
It does not matter if the law is actually implemented or not, because even though this is a direct attack against China, it does not have to interfere with the status quo. Indeed, if the status quo were to be maintained, China would still find herself in a submissive position as compared to the US in a decade from now because there is no serious way to solve her problems that are self-inflicted and related to her debts.
As with many “laws”, it was a political act before one of actual value, meant to reinforce the current state of affairs and US “dominance” in East Asia and over China’s influence before causing real change, and most likely has been in response to China’s attempts to challenge US influence around Chinese waters, such as the recent Chinese sailing of naval ships through the Strait of Taiwan that comes following a joint US-French naval venture through the same water passage.
China’s attempts to keep Hong Kong issues and the trade talks on separate tracks might not be universally popular, some analysts say. Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said it could be embarrassing for a phase-one trade deal to progress in light of the Hong Kong law.
Yet despite the various unknowns and risks, the fact that Beijing has so far merely stuck to verbal threats instead of escalating to actual deeds, confirms that for now, Trump’s signing gamble worked out just as the US president expected.
…and that is how things are going to remain. The Hong Kong issue is directly related to the agricultural and economic wars taking place because all revolve around US influence in her geopolitical sphere, and while China may try to push hard, there is only so hard that she can push before experiencing major blowback that could result in her suffering economic consequences that would destroy her as well as possibly lead to her invasion.
It is also of note to point out how China’s great ally, Russia has practically remained silent during the entire affair. Russia is not going to get involved in this fight because her status as an ally of China is but a cover for her outright hatred of her. Russia does not trust China, she legitimately fears that China may try to annex Siberia in the future, and so she has been buying off China with very low gas and rare-earth mineral prices. For the Russians, this is not about “helping” China, but trying to find reasons to keep them close to her but also away from her at the same time.
Russia knows that China cannot win the current fight with the US. It is partially why Russia has taken a more autarchial approach, because she knows a conflict is coming and in true to her historical fashion, she is isolating herself from the world for the coming “winter” of this age. China is in a losing position, and while Russia is weak, she knows well how to survive and has survived many invaders, and she will sit back and silently watch as the Chinese and US have a public fight that will only lead to China’s ultimate subjugation.
So for now, there is little to worry about in terms of a Chinese “threat” against the US. Rather, what people need to pay attention to is not China, but Japan, since Japan is a historical imperial power, has a long history of invading her neighbors, was in a major war with the US not even a century ago, has openly expressed a desire to remilitarize, has the capacity to remilitarize, and is happening at a time when Japanese nationalism is rising again and against the Chinese.
China is a threat, but the real danger always was Japan, and still is to this day.