Steve Bannon unloads on China ahead of Hong Kong speech, declaring Beijing ‘the biggest problem’ for Trump

‘The elites in this country have got us in a situation. We’re not at economic war with China; China is at economic war with us’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 10:46pm

Steve Bannon – US President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist who left the White House in August – has used a closely watched TV appearance to hammer China ahead of his arrival in Hong Kong to speak on US economic nationalism tomorrow.

Bannon told 60 Minutes on Sunday that the US had to take a tougher stance with China over trade and appropriating US technology.

Beijing, he declared in his first TV interview since leaving the White House, was already at “economic war” with the US and it was time for the US to respond in kind.

“Donald Trump, for 30 years, has singled out China as the biggest single problem we have on the world stage,” he said. ‘The elites in this country have got us in a situation. We’re not at economic war with China; China is at economic war with us.”

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Bannon will address an investor forum in Hong Kong tomorrow organised by CLSA, an overseas unit of Citic Securities Co, the biggest state-owned Chinese brokerage. The talk will focus on “American economic nationalism, the populist revolt and Asia,” according to a CLSA spokeswoman.

Donald Trump, for 30 years, has singled out China as the biggest single problem we have on the world stage
Steve Bannon

“He’s the man of the moment, and we believe our clients are interested in what he has to say,” CLSA said. “He is current and his opinion influences the markets.”

The September 12 talk will focus on “American economic nationalism, the populist revolt and Asia,” according to the CLSA spokeswoman.

Bannon, went to work in Hong Kong on 2005 at a start-up called Internet Gaming Entertainment, based in Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay.

Bannon unloaded against his enemies in the 60 Minutes interview. It was a long list, as he declared war against the Republican congressional leadership, called on top Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn to resign, and outlined his views on issues ranging from immigration to trade.

He accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan of “trying to nullify the 2016 election.” It was Bannon’s first television interview since returning as executive chairman to Breitbart News, the conservative website he previously led.

He blamed them for failing to repeal and replace former president Barack Obama’s signature health care law and made clear he would use his Breitbart perch to hold Republicans accountable for not helping Trump push through his agenda.

“They’re not going to help you unless they’re put on notice,” he told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “They’re going to be held accountable if they do not support the president of the United States. Right now there’s no accountability.”

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Stressing absolute loyalty to Trump, Bannon criticised members of the administration who, he said, had leaked to the media their displeasure with the way Trump handled the white-supremacist-fuelled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one dead and more injured.

“You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But if you’re going to break, then resign. If you’re going to break with him, resign,” he said. “If you find it unacceptable, you should resign.”

He explicitly mentioned Cohn, Trump’s director of the National Economic Council who had criticised Trump’s response in an interview with the Financial Times, and said he “absolutely” thought Cohn should have resigned.

Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August 2016 and emerged as the president’s ideological id, channelling his populist and nationalist impulses. Though he made many enemies within the West Wing, including the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and clashed with John Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff, Bannon remains close to Trump.

Recalling a particularly low moment in the campaign, when the Access Hollywood tape emerged of Trump bragging about groping women, Bannon dismissed it as “just locker room talk” – but said the moment served as an important “litmus test” for loyalty to Trump.

At the time, Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, urged the then-candidate to either drop out of the race or face a historic loss. And, Bannon said, Governor Chris Christie, who served as a campaign adviser overseeing Trump’s transition plan, lost a likely spot in the president’s Cabinet because of his response to the video.

“I told him, ‘The plane leaves at 11 in the morning. If you’re on the plane, you’re on the team,’ ” Bannon said, referring to Christie. “Didn’t make the plane.”

Yet Bannon also seemed to criticise the president’s recent decision to rescind protections for “Dreamers” – those 690,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as young children – while giving Congress six months to devise a legislative solution. The move, he said, could cost Republicans the House in the 2018 election.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March, it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013,” Bannon said. “And to me, doing that in the springboard of primary season for 2018 is extremely unwise.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg