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Trump picks fierce China critic Peter Navarro to lead new trade office

Economist Peter Navarro, who has urged a hard line with Beijing and suggested closer US ties to Taiwan, is the author of ‘Death by China’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 8:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 11:05am

In another sign that he intends to shake up relations with China, US president-elect Donald Trump named economist Peter Navarro, a strident critic of Beijing, to lead a newly created White House council on trade.

Navarro is an academic and one-time investment adviser who has authored a number of popular books and made a film describing China’s threat to the US economy as well as Beijing’s desire to become the dominant economic and military power in Asia.

Trump’s team praised Navarro in a statement as a “visionary” economist who would “develop trade policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand our growth, and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores”.

Trump, a Republican, made trade a centrepiece of his presidential campaign and railed against what he said were bad deals the United States had made with other countries. He has threatened to hit Mexico and China with high tariffs once he takes office on January 20.

Navarro, 67, is a professor at University of California, Irvine, and advised Trump during the campaign. He has authored several books including Death by China: How America Lost its Manufacturing Base, which was made into a documentary film.

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As well as describing what he sees as America’s losing economic war with China, Navarro has highlighted concerns over environmental issues related to Chinese imports and the theft of U.S. intellectual property.

While Trump in the statement praised the “clarity” of Navarro’s arguments and the “thoroughness of his research,” few other economists have endorsed Navarro’s ideas.

Marcus Noland, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, likened a tax and trade paper authored by Navarro and Wilbur Ross, who has been named as Trump’s commerce secretary, to “the type of magical thinking best reserved for fictional realities” for what he said was its flawed economic analysis.

Navarro has also suggested a stepped-up engagement with Taiwan, including assistance with a submarine development programme.

He argued that Washington should stop referring to the “one China” policy, but stopped short of suggesting it should recognise Taipei, saying: “There is no need to unnecessarily poke the Panda.”

China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

After his November 8 election win, Trump stoked China’s ire when he took a telephone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in a break with decades of precedent that cast doubt on his incoming administration’s commitment to Beijing’s “one China” policy.

In an opinion piece in Foreign Policy magazine in November, Navarro and another Trump adviser, Alexander Gray, reiterated the president-elect’s opposition to major trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Trump will never again sacrifice the US economy on the altar of foreign policy by entering into bad trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, allowing China into the World Trade Organization, and passing the proposed TPP,” Navarro and Gray wrote. “These deals only weaken our manufacturing base and ability to defend ourselves and our allies.”

Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the TPP, a free-trade pact aimed at linking a dozen Pacific Rim nations that President Barack Obama signed in February. It has not been ratified by the US Senate.

The president-elect has also vowed to renegotiate the Nafta pact with Canada and Mexico, saying it had cost American jobs.

Additional reporting by Associated Press