China: Trade, Hong Kong, and US Elections

Published on June 9, 2020

Senior sources in Beijing warn that China will take countermeasures against recent attacks and sanctions by the administration of US President Donald Trump over Hong Kong, Taiwan, the coronavirus, and Huawei, “among other issues.”

*** But the same high-level Chinese officials are quick to distinguish the threat of countermeasures against those hot-button issues from any indication that Beijing has, or will, walk away from its Phase One trade agreement with the United States. ***

*** Furthermore, sources note that four of the five sanctions threatened by President Trump over Hong Kong do not have a timetable for implementation (yet), and add that Beijing will not announce any countermeasures against the US until the US formally imposes sanctions, including the revocation of Hong Kong’s special trading status. But when that happens, the first response, from what we understand, will be to revoke the freedom of travel of US citizens in and out of Hong Kong. ***

*** Separately, the Central National Security Council (CNSC) has completed a formal assessment of the US presidential race, in which it expects the November 2020 elections to draw the highest turnout in history.  Noting the more than 40 national polls that show Trump lagging behind his democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, the report nevertheless concludes that Trump is still more likely than not to pull off a second term. ***

That, at least, is the assessment from Beijing.

Trade Track and Sanctions

Sources at the highest level in Beijing have fully taken on board the message from Washington that for all the rising tensions with China, across a host of dimensions, President Trump will not walk away from the Phase One trade deal between the two countries.

Beijing, in turn, has given assurances to Washington that it will do its best to abide by the terms of the agreement. But perhaps more to the point, given the low odds of that happening, both sides have reaffirmed that should any problems arise in the process, these will be resolved within the framework of the agreement.

Regarding simmering tensions over Hong Kong, the same officials note that four of the five sanctions announced by Trump in response to the security law draft do not have a specific timetable for implementation.

And as to the one that does – the barring, effective June 1, of entry to the US of Chinese students who are deemed to be at risk of passing technology secrets back to the Chinese military – that is claimed, perhaps a bit cavalierly, to affect only about 300 people.

The trigger nevertheless to a response from Beijing will be a formal revocation, as threatened by Washington, of Hong Kong’s special status, in response to which China will “immediately” revoke the ease of travel of Americans in and out of the city.

An Eye on the 2020 US Elections

Separately, from what we understand, the Central National Security Council (CNSC) has formally submitted its assessment of the upcoming US presidential race to the leadership in Beijing.

This November, they believe, is likely to draw the highest turnout in US electoral history, with whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians all drawn to the polls “because of Trump” (presumably both for, and against).

The CNSC report notes that former Vice President Joe Biden led in every single one of more than 40 nationwide polls in May, and that ongoing civil unrest and the administration’s handling of the COVID pandemic will certainly strike a blow to Trump’s prospects. The report adds that the impact from these crises on the elections remains to be seen.

Indeed, the CNSC concludes that despite all that, Trump is still more likely than not to win re-election, but it does lay out three conditions that it believes could lead, and in fact are all three seen as indispensable, to a Biden victory.

The first of the conditions is a vice-presidential nominee who strongly complements Biden, the second is the full-throated backing of former President Barack Obama, and the third is a fully united Democratic party that includes the unconditional mobilization of support of the progressive wing by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Finally, straying into Washington’s favorite parlor game of second-guessing who that VP choice for Biden should be, the CNSC report suggests it should, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be California Senator Kamala Harris.

Right about here, we would be remiss not to note that there will most certainly be many US political analysts who would vehemently disagree with every single point in this CNSC report. We did find it interesting, nonetheless, and suspect that assessment might play no small part in coloring Beijing’s response to Trump.

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