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China-US relations

Jeffrey Sachs’ voice will be sorely missed

  • Decision by respected American macroeconomist Jeffrey Sachs to quit social media amid a storm of protest is a blow to ensuring trade war discussion remains fair and on an even keel
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 11:23pm

Cool heads will help China and the United States navigate their challenges. But a polarisation of views and hardening of positions will inevitably mean rising tensions that will create an ever-more dangerous situation. The decision by respected mainstream American macroeconomist Jeffrey Sachs to quit social media is therefore a blow to ensuring discussion remains fair and on an even keel. Moderate voices such as his are what is most needed at so crucial a time for trade negotiations.

The sides are in the midst of a 90-day grace period to bring clarity to discussions to try to avert the imposition of heavy tariffs on goods. President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald Trump shared views in a phone call last month, but there was no indication that a deal is in the offing. There has been no let-up in the rhetoric in the media, though, with the hard-line positions aired showing the nations are still far apart on what is needed to avert a crisis.

Sachs quits Twitter after criticising US handling of Meng case

Sachs was hounded off Twitter last week after a storm of protest by Americans over his criticism of the Trump administration for wanting to punish Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for her company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran. He argued last month in an internationally-published article that the charging of the daughter of the founder of China’s biggest technology firm that is a global leader in 5G telecommunications was part of the economic war against Beijing. Firms in the past had been fined for sanctions-busting and holding executives to account was rare; targeting a high-profile Chinese ahead of any number of Americans was an obvious attempt to sway negotiations. The backlash was instant, with accusations on social media that he was being paid by Huawei or Beijing to hold such opinions and the trolling became so intense that closing the account made sense.

Celebrities are constantly pressing delete on their social media accounts. But Sachs, a Columbia University professor, is no ordinary famous name; his prescriptions have guided a number of economically-troubled countries back to health. The loss of the valuable discussion and debate offered by his middle-ground views will be sorely missed at so crucial a time.