Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s characterization of back-and-forth tariff threats between the U.S. and China as a “trade war” was an “unfortunate soundbite,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told NPR on Wednesday.
How would Navarro characterize the escalating economic tensions between Washington and Beijing? “It’s a trade dispute, plain and simple.”
“That was an unfortunate soundbite, basically for two reasons,” Navarro said of Mnuchin’s statement earlier this month that the Trump administration was “putting the trade war on hold” amid negotiations with China. “One is that what we’re having with China is a trade dispute, plain and simple. They engage in a whole range of unfair trade practices.”
“The second thing is, the president has said we lost the trade war long ago. President Obama, Bush, Clinton lost this when we got into bad trade deals like NAFTA,” Navarro continued. “And when China got into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which President Clinton pushed, that’s been just devastating.”
Trade tensions between the U.S. and China appeared to ratchet up on Tuesday with a White House announcement that President Donald Trump would go ahead with the imposition of tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, as well as investment restrictions and litigation at the World Trade Organization. That announcement marked a reversal from earlier in the month, when Mnuchin said the U.S. would hold off on imposing tariffs against China to allow for negotiations to continue.
Navarro, a staunch advocate for the president's get-tough approach with China, and Mnuchin, known to hold more moderate views, have clashed previously on the issue of U.S. trade policy with China, including a shouting match during an initial round of talks in Beijing earlier this month.
Trump has long complained about what he considers the unequal trade relationship between the U.S. and China and has made resetting that relationship onto more favorable terms for the U.S. a priority in recent weeks. Threats from the White House about the imposition of tariffs have been met in kind by threats of reciprocal tariffs from China, fueling fears of a trade war that could create drag on the global economy.
The Chinese government, in response to the Trump administration’s move this week to follow through on its tariff threats, said the announcement, in light of Mnuchin’s statement less than two weeks ago, diminishes the credibility of U.S. negotiators.
“We urge the United States to keep its promise, and meet China halfway in the spirit of the joint statement,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, according to Reuters. “When it comes to international relations, every time a country does an about face and contradicts itself, it’s another blow to, and a squandering of, its reputation.”