Fresh off steering strategy for a presidential campaign and White House which has damaged institutions and democratic norms in the United States, Steve Bannon flew to Hong Kong in the second week of September to deliver a speech to investors at an event hosted by a Citic subsidiary. He was greeted by protesters outside the venue decrying the toxic politics Bannon is famous for nurturing.
In line with his nationalist rhetoric, Bannon declared an "economic war" between China and the U.S. during his speech. At ChinaFile, a number of experts discussed the merits of this sort of label for the relationship between the two countries. My small contribution to the conversation is copied below. The entire discussion can be read here.
I question the motives of the messenger. The discussion above, to the credit of its participants, has revolved so far around the merits of using “economic war” as a concept in the discourse of U.S.-China relations and the extents to which China is competing on a fair playing field. But we should be wary of Bannon, a regressive political figure and “alt-right” enabler who craves conflict within the U.S. and apparently war with China, of dishing up a conversation on the policy nuances toward China. Somewhat like the race-based theories of social organization to which his Breitbart faithful adhere, Bannon seems to selectively use bits and pieces of acknowledged fact to advertise a normative argument for deeper conflict, in this case with China.
Many people within the policy and political science community have engaged for years in discussion of the U.S. trade stance toward China and its bucking of international norms and standards. This conversation should continue, inclusive of those across the policy spectrum. But we ought to remain circumspect toward those who may not be engaging in good faith, who do not intend to maintain a just and peaceful world or resort to conflict as a last resort, those who undermine democracy with ethnocentric populism and envision a world divided along such lines. Bannon’s Hong Kong speech is an effort to stay relevant after leaving the chaos he helped mold in the White House.