The Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times remarked on Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon’s departure from the White House in an editorial on Saturday. It was not a fond farewell.
In fact, the Global Times published at least two more articles attacking Bannon to buttress its Sunday editorial. One of them is essentially a compilation of rumors and hot takes harvested from American mainstream media: Bannon thinks President Trump must “win solid support from far-right white voters”; he and other key White House aides “have had their knives out for each other”; Trump fired Bannon because of the Charlottesville incident; Bannon is using Breitbart News to get revenge against National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
The other, more interesting anti-Bannon op-ed was penned for the Global Times by financial services executive Ed Zhang, who lambastes Bannon for allegedly being a “poor student of Sun Tzu.”
Zhang argues Bannon has “sub-par intelligence as a strategist” because he’s picking an economic fight with a focused and unified China while America is so bitterly divided by “ideologies often defined as white supremacism.” He even digs up David Duke to smear President Trump.
“Does Bannon really seriously want to start an economic war against China with such a deep scar being left in the very social fabric of the US? Or is he only trying to bail out the White House from an emerging public relations crisis by pointing his finger at an easy scapegoat?” Zhang asked.
He then bizarrely argues that Bannon is mistaken to accuse China of waging an “economic war” against the United States because “no war lasts forever” and since “the economy, or rather market competition never stops,” there can be no such thing as economic warfare.
The Global Times might get most of its political information about America by skimming the laziest mainstream media reporting, but the Communist paper writes about market competition in far more glowing terms than most American newspapers or TV networks would. Of course, any Chinese citizen who tries to engage in robust market competition with state-run Chinese enterprises – like, say, its print and broadcast media – will quickly find himself doubting his government’s commitment to what Zhang calls the “ongoing goal of mankind” to “come up with better and more economic goods.”
Contrary to Zhang’s carping about Sun Tzu scholarship, there is no passage in The Art of War advising leaders to ignore an adversary while it launches relentless attacks, conducts extensive sabotage campaigns, and seizes disputed territory for itself. Criticism of Bannon by China’s state-run media is part of Beijing’s ongoing campaign to bully the U.S. into forgetting China’s shady trade practices and information theft. They are angry at Trump because he talks about pursuing America’s interests the same way Beijing’s leadership aggressively pursues China’s interests. China much prefers American leaders who believe America has no moral right to prioritize its own citizens over foreign concerns.
The Chinese are happy to see Bannon go because they dislike his focus on China fighting an economic war with the United States. Both of the follow-up slams against Bannon reinforce the central point of the Global Times editorial board, which is that China is the wise, united, and law-abiding economic superpower in the world today, while America is a divided basket case that calls out Chinese trade crimes to distract from its own problems.
The Global Times Sunday editorial hits Bannon for believing “the two ‘largest threats’ to the U.S. are China and Islam.” What he actually said was that “expansionist Islam” and “expansionist China” are both “motivated, arrogant, and on the march, and they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.” The Chinese paper appears to be quoting a paraphrase from the UK Guardian.
The Global Times more precisely quotes Bannon from his telephone interview with Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect last week, to the effect that America is in an “economic war with China,” although they delicately omit the part where he said China is “just tapping us along” with a “sideshow” on North Korea.
The Chinese editorial frowns upon Bannon’s advice that America should be “maniacally focused” on the economic war with China because, “if we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
“It is known that many in the US have proposed various forms of confrontations against China, and would do anything necessary to contain China’s ongoing ascension upon the world stage,” the Global Times writes. “Frankly speaking, on the Chinese side, there are those who believe the differences between the two superpowers are irreconcilable, and China should give up ‘any fantasy’ it may have of cooperating with the US.”
The Chinese editorialists hope Bannon’s departure means the Trump administration will instead pursue “constructive cooperation” rather than proceeding down “a path of conflict.” This overlooks the fact that Donald Trump was a famously outspoken critic of Chinese economic policies long before Steve Bannon joined his campaign. There was quite a bit of talk about China waging economic war against the United States during Trump’s aborted presidential run in 2012. The China chapters in his book from the 2012 campaign season did not get any softer when it was recently reissued.
The Global Times writes that Bannon will “maintain the belief, even during his final minutes at the White House, that the US should engage in an economic war against China, and that the two countries indeed have a fight-to-the-death competitive streak against one another.” Actually, both Bannon and Trump have said China began waging economic war against the United States long ago, and it is long past time for the U.S. to start fighting back. It remains to be seen whether the president can be convinced China has abandoned its hostility or expansionist desires.
It is not a good sign that the Communist Party paper cannot resist blustering about China’s immense resources and huge trade surplus with America, warning that “if high tariffs are imposed on China imports, then many U.S. businesses will suffer from immediate losses,” while American consumers would be “forced to confront rising prices.” Chinese government organs can never keep up the pretense of being square dealers who want nothing but constructive cooperation with the United States for very long.
The editorial concludes by hoping Bannon’s departure will put an end to the Trump administration’s tendency to view China as a global adversary. That really depends more on what China does than any advice tendered by a particular White House adviser. Steve Bannon did not hack the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, he is not building artificial islands with military airfields in the South China Sea, and he doesn’t spend his spare time conducting dangerous intercepts of American planes in international airspace.
We might all hope for a more constructive relationship in the future, and we may all dread the notion of a trade war, but it’s positively grotesque for the Chinese to pretend they have committed no acts of economic aggression or that suspicion of their motives is little more than a paranoid delusion.