Bannon calls for 'maniacal' focus on economic war with China

Tensions with North Korea is just sideshow, says Trump strategist

WASHINGTON • White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has argued forcefully in an interview that the United States is in an "economic war" with China, and the confrontation with nuclear-armed North Korea is just "a sideshow".

"To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that," he said in the interview published in the American Prospect, a left-leaning website, on Wednesday.

"If we continue to lose it, we are five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we will never be able to recover," he said.

Mr Bannon, an economic nationalist and former chief executive of the extreme-right Breitbart news website, is reported to be on shaky ground with US President Donald Trump, who gave him only a tepid endorsement this week.

But in a frank, freewheeling telephone interview with American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner, Mr Bannon talked about the recent violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia and infighting in the White House over China policy, including over North Korea.

He was dismissive of Mr Trump's vow to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea if it continued to threaten the US with missiles and nuclear weapons.

"There is no military solution (to North Korea's nuclear threats). Forget it," he said.

ECONOMIC OPPONENT

We are at economic war with China. It is in all their literature. They are not shy about saying what they are doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it is gonna be them if we go down this path.

WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST STEVE BANNON, warning that China may edge out the US on economy.

MILITARY ACTION RULED OUT

Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about. There is no military solution here - they got us.

MR BANNON, dismissing President Donald Trump's threat of "fire and fury" against nuclear-armed North Korea.

"Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about. There is no military solution here - they got us."

According to Mr Kuttner, Mr Bannon described his fight within the administration to take a harder line against China's trade practices and not fall into the trap of hoping China would play the role of honest broker in restraining North Korea.

"We are at economic war with China," he said. "It is in all their literature. They are not shy about saying what they are doing.

"One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it is gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they are just tapping us along. It is just a sideshow."

In the American Prospect article, titled "Steve Bannon, Unrepentant", the President's strategist also appeared eager to lash out at his ideological rivals in the administration, saying they were "wetting themselves" as he worked to undermine their influence with the President and bragged about his ability to defeat those who opposed a more aggressive posture towards China on trade policy.

"That is a fight I fight every day here," Mr Bannon said. "We are still fighting. There is Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying."

Mr Cohn is the director of the National Economic Council at the White House.

Mr Bannon also named Ms Susan Thornton, the acting director of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs division at the State Department, as someone he will dispatch.

"I am changing out people at East Asian Defence; I am getting hawks in," he said. "I am getting Susan Thornton out at State."

Mr Bannon told friends that he did not believe that his conversation with Mr Kuttner was on the record. But he is a savvy media operator who rarely speaks without a clear understanding of the rules.

Mr Kuttner said the issue of whether the phone interview was on the record never came up.

According to him, Mr Bannon told him he reached out because he agreed with Mr Kuttner's past writings on China.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Bannon calls for 'maniacal' focus on economic war with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe