A Coming US-China Trade War

Donald Trump is set to deliver two of the most interesting speeches of his presidency. The first will be delivered today at Globalist Disneyland, aka the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His audience will consist mainly of political, business, and media VIPs from around the world. He’ll be following globalist-friendly speeches from India’s Narendra Modi, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and France’s Emmanuel Macron, among others.


Next Tuesday, he’ll deliver his first official State of the Union address to Congress. On that occasion, his audience will consist mainly of Republican lawmakers, Democrats who choose not to boycott him, and an American TV audience made up mainly of his supporters, if past addresses from past presidents are any guide.

In both speeches, it will be important to watch what the president has to say about China. This is the central US foreign-policy question of 2018. During his first year in office, Trump slow-rolled trade action against China with the hope that Beijing could help neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat. He hasn’t given up on that strategy, but having made little progress, we’re starting to seethe beginnings of a more confrontational posture toward China on trade. Chinese officials will parse both these speeches in search of risks and opportunities.

Trump has less at stake at Davos. He’ll benefit politically by showing his base back home that he tells truth to elites. On Capitol Hill, Trump won’t accuse China of “raping” the US economy, as he did on the campaign trail, but he will have a good story to tell on “unfair trade practices.” Some trade and investment actions against China have already been taken, and Trump looks set to roll out even more, as soon as Tuesday.

Are we headed for a trade war? That would be bad news for the US and worse news for China. Our bet is things won’t go that far, hostile rhetoric aside, because both sides know the other can inflict real economic and political pain, and no one wants a spiral that neither can fully control. But it seems clear now that US-Chinese relations are headed for a period of confrontation. We’ll be watching, especially during these two speeches, to measure the blast radius of Trump’s next move.

On the latest episode of Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Ken Burns explores the opportunity to come out of this moment as better versions of ourselves — and reveals whether a film about this year is in the cards.

Listen to the new episode here.

The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

More Show less

Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I's decision to leave the country after being investigated for corruption has reignited the debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain. Opinions are divided between mostly older Spaniards who defend the institution's role as a symbol of national unity, and the younger generations and nationalist regions who want Spain to become a republic. More than three quarters of the world's countries are now republics, but 44 still have a king or queen as their head of state — among them the 16 Commonwealth countries officially ruled by British Queen Elizabeth II and 5 countries where the sovereign is all-powerful. We take a look at which countries remain monarchies today, and those that sent their royals packing in the post-World War II waves of decolonization and republicanism.

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

More Show less

280 million: Democratic candidate Joe Biden plans to spend $280 million on campaign ads in his battle against US President Donald Trump. Although Trump trails the former vice president by 7 points in an average of national polls, the incumbent has set aside less than half that amount for ads of his own.

More Show less