Are Britain and America becoming ‘frenemies’?
Someone with a little bit too much time on their hands has compiled a video of Donald Trump saying “China” on 234 different occasions.
On his campaign rallies, Donald Trump seemed obsessed with China and frequently took aim at the country.
He called China an “economic enemy” who was “taking advantage” of the US. He accused it of taking away US jobs, calling it “the greatest theft in the history of the world”.
Though Trump uttered strong words as a presidential candidate, as President he’s been much softer towards China.
For example, Trump hasn’t labelled China a currency manipulator, something he had threatened to do. Instead he praised the Chinese government for trying to prevent the yuan getting weaker.
For strategic reasons, Trump can’t go after China right now. But that doesn’t sit well with his campaign promise to put America first.
If he can’t act against China – the country he used to blame for America’s woes – how will Trump show he sticks up for US workers?
Simple. He turns his attention to America’s friends.
“Trump has simply aimed his trade weapons at our friends instead of our enemies,” writes US finance writer Jim Rickards.
Britain is one of those friends who could suddenly encounter a more hostile US.
Trump’s White House doesn’t seem to be making a lot of friends, but it excels at making ‘frenemies’.
Countries that the US President has been very critical of in the past, like China and South Korea, have seen their relations with the US somewhat improve.
On the other hand, the US’s traditional allies: Canada, Britain, EU countries and NATO members have been met by a more hostile Trump.
As a result, it’s become harder to categorise the relations of other countries with Trump’s America as ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’. Often it’s something in between.
There’s a reason for that, of course.
As much as Trump may wish to publicly scold China, as he did on the campaign trail, he needs Xi Jinping’s support.
“The US needs help from China and South Korea in its confrontation with North Korea,” says Jim Rickards.
“Trump has refrained from starting a trade war in Asia in order to try to prevent a shooting war.”
But it’s not just North Korea Trump will be concerned about. China’s getting chummier with Russia too.
With the US Congress deciding to impose sanctions on Russia, Trump will try to avoid China and Russia ganging up against the US.
It leaves Trump in an awkward position. As presidential candidate he came close to blaming China for most of America’s economic problems.
Trump’s hands are tied when it comes to China because of today’s geopolitical tensions, but he needs to be seen doing something.
That’s why Trump’s decided to act tough on his ‘friends’.
“The US has threatened to terminate NAFTA with Mexico and Canada,” writes Rickards. “Trump has imposed steep tariffs on Canadian lumber.”
“And in the latest salvo aimed at traditional friends Trump imposed 219% tariffs on imported aircraft from Bombardier, a Canadian competitor of [US company] Boeing.”
This move means Britain, too, has ended up in Trump’s crosshairs.
Bombardier has factories in Northern Ireland, where it employs over 4,000 people.
Trump may be sympathetic to the Brexit cause but this doesn’t mean he’s going to treat Britain any more favourably.
It’s still ‘America first’.
‘Mr Brexit?’ More like Captain America
“They’ll soon be calling me Mr. BREXIT!” Donald Trump exclaimed on Twitter last year.
After correctly predicting the outcome of Britain’s EU referendum, he figured he might as well jump on the Brexit bandwagon.
The US President has frequently shown his support to Brexit and congratulated Brits for “taking their country back”.
He’s also promised to agree a “beautiful trade deal” with Britain once it’s out of the EU.
But Trump’s support for Brexit has its limits, especially if it goes against US interests.
Prime Minister Theresa May found that out the hard way when the White House decided to impose protectionist measures on its aircraft industry.
It sparked a fierce reaction from Downing Street with May suggesting the measure could trigger a trade war.
If the US government doesn’t revisit its plans to slap huge tariffs on the import of aircrafts, Britain’s Ministry of Defence could re-evaluate its contracts with Boeing.
“This US tariff comes at the worst possible time for May because she is in the middle of negotiating Brexit with the EU and was trying to use a ‘friendly’ US as a lifeline,” Rickards explains.
A trade war with the US is the last thing the British government needs. It had actually hoped Trump would be in their corner as it’s negotiating its way out of the EU.
UK-US relations became even more strained this week. That’s because the Trump administration decided to join a group of countries objecting to a UK-EU deal on agriculture.
Britain and the EU agreed to share out World Trade Organisation quotas on the import of farm products.
Britain would receive part of the EU’s quota for products it consumes more than EU countries, like New Zealand lamb. In return, Britain hands over part of its quotas for products that are more popular in the EU.
This deal has been hailed as a major breakthrough in the Brexit talks, but now the US is among the countries that threaten to put a spoke in the wheel.
The US has a powerful farm lobby. It sees Brexit as a golden opportunity to make Britain open up its market to more US farm goods.
“Get used to these trade war tactics by the US,” Rickards warns. “Not even our friends are safe.”