Tariff Time for China

It sure is hard to keep pace with Donald Trump. He proved it again yesterday by replacing National Security Advisor HR McMaster with the hawkish John Bolton.


A few quick thoughts:

  1. In 2005, to sidestep a vote in the Senate, President George W. Bush used a recess appointment to make John Bolton his ambassador to the United Nations, because he didn’t believe a Republican Senate would approve him.
  2. Three years ago, Bolton wrote an op-ed in the New York Times under the headline “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.
  3. Three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal under the headline “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”
  4. Trump is a punch thrower. He will now be taking national security advice from a punch thrower.

More to say on that in future editions. Today we want to focus on yesterday’s big trade news.

Trump wasn’t kidding when he pledged to get tough with the world’s largest emerging economy. Senior advisors have reportedly recommended US tariffs on Chinese exports of about $30 billion, but Trump decided to push that up to $60 billion. More than 1,000 products could be affected. We’re also likely to see new restrictions on Chinese investment in the US.

Another few thoughts:

  • China will move quickly to retaliate. For a glimpse of the anxiety this will cause US farmers, check out this piece from the Des Moines Register, which warns that China’s response will directly target states that Trump considers part of his political base.
  • China may also target the US auto sector for the same reason. (Michigan might be the most closely watched state on the electoral map as 2020 approaches.)
  • This gets to a point we’ve made before: Trump believes the Chinese economy is more vulnerable than the US economy, while China’s Xi Jinping believes he is stronger politically than Trump. They’re both right, and this confidence on both sides creates a risk of escalation that neither side wants.
  • To try to avoid that escalation, China will probably signal that it means to match Trump’s actions without exceeding them. We’ll hear the word “proportional” a lot in coming days.

This month, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington state presented new legislation that could soon become the most comprehensive privacy law in the country. The centerpiece of this legislation, the Washington Privacy Act as substituted, goes further than the landmark bill California recently enacted and builds on the law Europeans have enjoyed for the past year and a half.

As Microsoft President Brad Smith shared in his blog post about our priorities for the state of Washington's current legislative session, we believe it is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state's leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation. People will only trust technology if they know their data is private and under their control, and new laws like these will help provide that assurance.

Read more here.

Let's be clear— the Middle East peace plan that the US unveiled today is by no means fair. In fact, it is markedly more pro-Israel than any that have come before it.

But the Trump administration was never aiming for a "fair" deal. Instead, it was pursuing a deal that can feasibly be implemented. In other words, it's a deal shaped by a keen understanding of the new power balances within the region and globally.

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For months now, the US has been lobbying countries around the world to ban the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the 5G data networks that are going to power everything from your cell phone, to power grids, to self-driving cars. US security hawks say allowing a Chinese company to supply such essential infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to steal sensitive data or even sabotage networks. On the other hand, rejecting Huawei could make 5G more expensive. It also means angering the world's second-largest economy.

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The end of the interim in Bolivia? – Mere months after taking over as Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez has decided that "interim" isn't quite permanent enough, and she now wants to run for president in elections set for May 3. Áñez is an outspoken conservative who took over in October when mass protests over election fraud prompted the military to oust the long-serving left-populist Evo Morales. She says she is just trying to unify a fractious conservative ticket that can beat the candidate backed by Morales' party. (Morales himself is barred from running.) Her supporters say she has the right to run just like anyone else. But critics say that after promising that she would serve only as a caretaker president, Áñez's decision taints the legitimacy of an election meant to be a clean slate reset after the unrest last fall. We are watching closely to see if her move sparks fresh unrest in an already deeply polarized country.

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1: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges Tuesday, making him the first sitting prime minister to face trial in Israel's history. The charges came hours before Netanyahu was set to meet President Trump for the unveiling of the US' long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

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