“I’ve read hundreds of books about China over the decades. I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind,” Donald Trump wrote in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal.
Asked more recently by China news agency Xinhua which were his favourite China books, he was reportedly able to list 20, ranging from Jung Chang’s Mao: The Untold Story and Henry Kissinger’s On China to Gavin Menzies’ 1421: The Year China Discovered The World and even Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Whether these were Trump’s own choices or a list quickly contrived by his spin doctors we will never know.
Since that first book, Trump has released a further 11 “co-written” tomes on business and politics.
They provide more than a hint as to where stands the man who betrays an admiration for Attila the Hun in 2001’s Midas Touch: Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich - and Why Most Don’t (“One of the greatest brand builders of all times was Attila the Hun. His brand preceded him so powerfully that opposing armies often surrendered before fighting him,” he writes).
Perhaps the most significant insight is to be found in revisiting 2011’s Time to Get Tough: Making America Great Again, intended to buttress a Trump presidential campaign in 2012 (the book was, tellingly, updated and reissued in 2015 as Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again).
In a chapter entitled “Tax China to Save American Jobs”, he lays out his position. “When it comes to China, Barack Obama practises ‘pretty please’ diplomacy. He begs and pleads and bows – and it has been a colossal failure.
“Get it straight: China is not our friend. They see us as the enemy. Washington better wake up fast, because China is stealing our jobs, sending a wrecking ball through our manufacturing industry, and ripping off our technology and military capabilities at Mach speed.”
Trump goes on to identify the China threat as three-pronged, consisting of “its outrageous currency manipulation”, “its systematic attempt to destroy our manufacturing base”, and “its industrial espionage and cyber warfare against America”.
Indeed, he blames the outgoing president for the lion’s share of the woes China has, in his eyes, inflicted on America.
“Obama claims we can’t do what’s in our interests because it might spark a ‘trade war’ – as if we are not in one now. And if we are in a trade war, Obama’s policies amount to virtual economic treason. Still, I believe we can overcome China’s threats with a smart strategy and a strong negotiator. […] Right now we’re simply getting hustled by the Chinese [in terms of currency manipulation] – and most Chinese people I deal with on a business level know it and are amazed at what Obama lets the Chinese government get away with.”
Trump, as always, knows what’s needed.
“Here’s the solution: get tough. Slap a 25 per cent tax on China’s products if they don’t set a real market value on their currency. End of Story. You think the Chinese wouldn’t respond constructively? No businessman I know would want to turn his back on the US market – and the Chinese won’t either.”
In a subsection headed “Stop Stealing Our Technology”, Trump bemoans the fact that, while American corporations and entrepreneurs are masters of technological and business innovation, the Chinese are “equally expert at stealing our trade secrets and technology”.
“That would be bad enough, but our government also stands by and does nothing while China demands that any American company that wants to enter the Chinese market has to transfer its technology to China. Such forced technology transfers are actually banned by the World Trade Organisation as an unfair trade practice, but Obama lets China get away with it.”
Things could easily get worse, he writes, coming to threaten not only the economy but national security: “China is a major aggressor in the field of cyber espionage and cyber warfare. It has the capacity not only to steal highly classified US military technology, but to unleash crippling computer viruses on our networks.”
Trump characterises the military threat from China as “gigantic”, noting that it’s no surprise the Chinese government lies about how big its military budget is.
Summing up, Trump writes that, while it may seem that he speaks very badly of China, “The truth is I have great respect for the people of China. I also have great respect for the people that represent China. What I don’t respect is the way that we negotiate and deal with China. Over the years, I have done many deals and transactions with the Chinese. […] So I know the Chinese, and understand and respect the Chinese.”
Trump then notes, in typical fashion, that real estate mogul Asher Alcobi had been quoted in an article by Bloomberg Businessweek as saying of his Chinese clients’ preferences, “Anything that has the Trump name is good.”
“So,” says Trump, “I speak badly of China, but I speak the truth and what do the consumers in China want? They want Trump. You know what that means? That means they respect people who tell it like it is and speak the truth, even if the truth may not be so nice towards them. In fact, it is my respect for the Chinese that leads me to tell our leaders to be careful. The Chinese will take and take and take until we have nothing left – and who can blame them if they can get away with it?
“China is our enemy. It’s time we started acting like it … and if we do our job correctly, China will gain a whole new respect for the United States and we can happily travel the highway to the future with China as our friend.”
Of course, how far these views from a book intended as a platform for an election campaign that never took place can be expected to represent Trump’s views in the cold light of day six years on is open to speculation.
Only time will tell.