US-China jostling more about strategic rivalry

I refer to the Opinion piece by associate editor Vikram Khanna (US 'poison pill' targeting China makes no sense; Oct 10).

I offer a different viewpoint - that we see the United States' recent trade manoeuvres as being reflective of an emerging Sino-US strategic rivalry, rather than as a largely economic issue.

First, the criteria for a market economy is a shifting goalpost that serves politically expedient ends.

In understanding the driving forces behind this trade war, we should steer clear of the notion that the US endgame is to coax China into becoming a market economy.

Rather, we should consider the wider implications of this "non-market economy" label - namely, that the US seeks to delegitimise China's continued economic rise.

Second, international regulation is never all-encompassing. There remains a grey area in international legality, such that it is not correct to label all of China's trade practices as being technically "illegal".

Thus, the existence of regulations as opposed to their implementation and enforcement are clearly separate issues.

Third, we must, in our assessment, separate economic aims (for example, China becoming a market economy while global supply chains become more efficient) from the larger US-China geostrategic rivalry.

Elaborating on the short-term economic pain for the US is besides the point.

In a zero-sum game, if the "opponent" - China - suffers relatively more than the US, then the US still wins.

Mr Khanna mentions that "trying to exclude countries from trade deals... makes no sense". I'd like to add that it makes no economic sense, but it still serves larger US purposes in an emerging Sino-US strategic rivalry.

Last, I disagree specifically with Mr Khanna's suggestion that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is an effective tool.

The WTO today may help in addressing isolated, short-term trade disputes, but is ineffectual in addressing the larger, competing strategic visions of the US and China.

This emerging strategic rivalry has been the main driver of the Trump administration's actions, rather than shorter-term economic imbalances.

Ultimately, the main takeaway from US trade policy in the past week lies in how the Trump administration has (in my view, mistakenly) convinced itself that the US' and China's strategic visions for the world order are fundamentally antagonistic - a zero-sum game - with this emerging rivalry currently manifest in the economic and trade arena.

Kuek Jia Yao

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