State media voices concern about the appointment of hawkish Peter Navarro to key trade post
By Tom Phillips
Peter Navarro has called China ‘the planet’s most efficient assassin’.
Photograph: Courtesy of Peter Navarro
Donald Trump’s decision to hand a key spot in his administration to a scholar known for his “apocalyptic” attacks on China is further proof the American billionaire is spoiling for a fight with Beijing, a Chinese newspaper has claimed.
Peter Navarro, a prominent China hawk who has called Beijing “the planet’s most efficient assassin” and a “totally totalitarian” state, was unveiled as chief of the White House’s newly created national trade council on Wednesday.
China’s official reaction was muted but editorials in the country’s Communist party-controlled press on Friday underlined the extent to which Navarro’s rise has ruffled feathers in the Chinese capital.
“His appointment is another sign of the confrontational approach the incoming Trump administration seems intent on taking in relations with China,” the China Daily, an English-language mouthpiece, wrote in an editorial. “[This is] no laughing matter.”
The state-run newspaper said that before Trump’s shock election it was possible to laugh off the “apocalyptic language” used against China by Navarro, the author of books called Death by China and The Coming China Wars.
“Now, however, there is real cause for concern,” it added.
The Global Times, a nationalistic state-run tabloid also famed for its use of apocalyptic language, claimed Trump’s pick had made conflict between the world’s top two economies more likely.
“This is by no means a positive signal,” the newspaper argued urging Beijing to face up to the reality that Trump would take a “hard-line attitude toward China” by introducing “reckless” measures targeting Chinese companies.
“[Beijing] must discard any illusions and make full preparations for any offensive move by the Trump government,” the Global Times added, warning: “The US can no longer push China around today.”
Navarro, a 67-year-old professor from the University of California, Irvine, was part of Trump’s team of advisers during his campaign, during which the Republican candidate accused Beijing of “raping” the US economy.
The China Daily described him as the “mastermind” behind Trump’s repeated campaign trail attacks on Beijing.
Navarro has blamed China’s admittance into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 for decimating the US economy and destroying millions of jobs and has urged American consumers to boycott Chinese goods to avoid bankrolling what he describes as Beijing’s increasing militarism.
Orville Schell, the head of the centre on US-China relations at New York’s Asia Society, said Navarro’s appointment was a “risky bargain”.
“The positive side is that it’s a real signal that things are out of balance – which I think everybody agrees they are - in terms of trade and investment [between the US and China].”
“The bad side of it is that China reacts often in a very neuralgic way to insults or things that they might take as an insult. And I can imagine they might view Navarro as something of a provocation.”
Schell said Navarro’s appointment and a succession of controversial interventions from Trump on issues including Taiwan and the South China Sea would have left Beijing off-balance. “But of course when they get off-balance sometimes they get more pugnacious,” he said.
Navarro’s appointment will fuel fears that Trump could spark a trade war with China by following through on his vow to label it a currency manipulator on his first day in office and slapping tariffs on Chinese imports.
Cheng Dawei, a former trade adviser to Beijing, told the Wall Street Journal she believed commerce ministry officials were currently “quite busy” devising ways of hitting back against any such measures.
“China is now preparing some weapons,” said Cheng, an economics professor from Beijing’s Renmin University.
Tu Xinquan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, told the China Daily US companies would pay “a much heavier cost” than Chinese ones for such a conflict.
On the eve of Navarro’s appointment China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, hinted at growing Chinese alarm over Trump’s presidency.
The US-China relationship now faced “new complexities and uncertain factors”, Wang told the People’s Daily, the Communist party’s official mouthpiece.