Peter Navarro, Copilot in US Trade War Campaigns(a) Donald Trump is generally regarded as the one who launched the current global trade war. However, unknown to almost all people, the person who plays the most crucial role in the trade war is not Trump, but a "faceless", "invisible" guy by the name of Peter Navarro, University of California at Irvine Economics Professor. "Faceless" and "invisible" because he does not hold any official post in the US government, but plays a critical role silently (with occasional deafening outbursts) as head of the Trump-created National Trade Council at the White House.
As the proverb goes, "Birds of a feather flock together," Navarro and Trump together form the "unholy duality" of the US trade war campaigns against the entire world, particular China. Navarro can be regarded as the copilot, but he seems to be seated more often in the pilot’s seat of the US “trade war machine”. Just as some eunuchs historically ruled the country behind the Ming emperors, Navarro can be regarded as the de facto second-in-command yielding tremendous influence over his current boss. Unless the guy is kicked out of the Trump team, the US global trade war campaigns will continue till the end of the Trump presidency.
(b) Melissa Chan is a national and foreign affairs reporter. She was a broadcast correspondent for Al Jazeera, where she reported everywhere from China to Cuba. As a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, she worked on media innovation and entrepreneurship. She is a collaborator with the Global Reporting Centre and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The following are excerpts from Melissa Chan's March 13, 2017 article headlined "Trump’s Top China Expert Isn’t a China Expert" at foreignpolicydotcom.
Peter Navarro has run for office five times, and lost five times. Over the course of his career, he has morphed from registered Republican, to Independent, to Democrat, and back to Republican — whatever it took to give him an edge, according to those in San Diego’s political circles, where Navarro forged a dubious reputation. The economics professor with a Harvard Ph.D. had much bigger ambitions than the quiet, tenured life he led for years. Like his current boss, President Donald Trump, he loved media attention and sought political fame.
He’s finally gotten it. Navarro closely shaped Trump’s strident rhetoric on China during the presidential campaign; now he holds a potentially critical role as head of the Trump-created National Trade Council at the White House. But the totality of Navarro’s curriculum vitae reflects someone with greater expertise in public utilities than the complex workings of the Asia-Pacific. He does not appear to speak much Chinese, and has not, by all accounts, spent any significant time in the country, nor is he a frequent visitor. Well-regarded China analysts are almost universal in their derision of his views. What happens when the White House’s top China expert is not — at least according to the yardsticks commonly used in foreign policy circles — really a China expert?
The answer could be crucial. Trade is the foundation for almost every other aspect of this most important geopolitical relationship in the world. “As soon as you have cheating by one country, the model breaks down,” Navarro said during an almost hour-long talk with Foreign Policy. “As soon as there is currency manipulation or currency misalignments, the model breaks down. In either case, one country wins at the expense of the other. Any high school student will understand that.”
Navarro, professionally reborn as a China analyst, bases his ideology on viewing China as America’s main combatant in a zero-sum economic game. He bemoans the country’s entry to the World Trade Organization as one of the biggest mistakes the United States has made, believing Beijing does not play by the rules. He has called China out for its mercantilist strategy driven by its state-owned enterprises and subsidies, much of which, he believes, have contributed to the decline of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Despite prevailing convention, he maintains that China is still manipulating its currency. (That was previously the case, but most economists agree the renminbi is no longer undervalued.) Together with Trump, Navarro tore apart the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He has said repeatedly that he wants to slap 43 percent tariffs on Chinese imports. (Trump has spoken separately of a 45 percent tariff.)
Since Navarro’s sudden emergence on the national political scene, he has resembled a gate-crasher to China experts who have spent years, even decades, forging their reputations. More than a dozen top China specialists reached for this article — including those from academia, think tanks, the private sector, and those formerly in government — said they did not know Navarro or had little interaction with him, and only heard of him after he catapulted onto the scene as a member of Trump’s economic team. Professors in Southern California — those most likely to have had a chance to meet Navarro, who has taught at the University of California, Irvine for years — said he made no effort to connect with China experts, whether economists, political scientists, or historians. “Navarro is not known in any China circles,” said James McGregor, a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.
“My recollection is that he generally avoided people who actually knew something about the country,” said Kenneth Pomeranz, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Chicago and formerly at UC Irvine. Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management and a frequent commentator on the Chinese economy, told FP, “The China that describes in Death by China bears only a tangential relationship to the China that I lived in for a decade.” McGregor said Navarro’s books and his documentary “have close to zero credibility with people who know the country,” and are filled with “hyperbole, inaccuracies” and a “cartoonish caricature of China that he puts out.”....
In Death by China, Navarro warns purchasers of Chinese goods, “If you fancy death by explosion, fire, or electric shock, you can choose from a wide selection of booby-trapped extension cords, fans, lamps, overheating remote controls, exploding cell phones, and self-immolating boom boxes.” At the start of another section on China’s pollution problems, Navarro sets the scene, declaring, “It’s Big Brother Meets Silent Spring.” He even takes to calling China “Dragonland.”
When asked about his reputation, Navarro referred me to the acknowledgments section of his latest book. “You have more than 30 of the top China hands in the world, across the spectrum, that I interviewed,” he said. “How can anybody credibly say that I avoided anybody? That’s just malicious spin.” Interviews, of course, aren’t tantamount to endorsements, and I was unable to find an interview subject of Navarro’s willing to comment for this article.
For most China experts, significant in-country time forges their interest and expertise. Not so Navarro, who said he turned his attention to China in the mid-2000s, when he started noticing that his former business school students had lost their jobs. He launched a research project on job losses when China’s trade surplus and undervaluation were objectively at their sharpest, and concluded that China was a major culprit....
The criticism from China experts mirrors the critiques of Navarro’s economic views. Profiles in outlets like the New Yorker and Vox have suggested that Navarro is unsupported by theory and isolated from mainstream economic thought. For his part, Navarro thinks most economists are isolated from reality. “Ninety-nine of the 100 people who criticize me on economic grounds don’t teach economics like I do,” he said. “This is an area of my core expertise, and I’m being criticized by people who have not taught the theoretical model and who have no clue why that theory has invariably broken down in the real world.”....
Navarro’s greatest vindication, of course, has been joining Trump’s administration. The two men first connected in 2011, after Navarro learned that Trump had read The Coming China Wars; later, Trump gave Navarro’s documentary a good review. When Trump launched his presidential run, Navarro flew to New York, and ended up helping out on the campaign trail. He said he had not expected to end up in Washington. “It just all happened organically.”
Navarro may have come to Washington from apparent obscurity, but San Diego’s political community remembers Navarro clearly, with a mixture of fear and loathing. “Nobody in town can believe Peter Navarro is where he is,” said Lisa Ross, Navarro’s own press officer for several of his five unsuccessful campaigns.
Navarro launched his 1992 mayoral bid after leading a grassroots group that fought what he perceived as overdevelopment in San Diego. He had become particularly attuned to the influence of special-interest groups from his work as an academic researching public utilities and rent control. He relished a good fight, and considered himself a man of the people. He positioned himself as the anti-establishment outsider. He was confident, brash, and had a knack for interacting with the press. “Peter could get the media to show up on a dime,” Ross said. “They loved him.”
Facing an opponent who had recently divorced her husband after he was convicted of laundering cocaine money, Navarro slammed Susan Golding in one of the most negative campaigns in the city’s memory. “He was extremely good at identifying a whipping boy and exploiting that,” said Tom Shepard, Golding’s chief campaign strategist. Navarro painted Golding, who had already spent years in local politics, as part of the rotten ruling class. In the final televised debate before voting day, he attacked Golding so nastily that she started tearing up. Instead of relenting, he doubled down, and accused Golding of acting. Voters were not pleased; Navarro lost the race by a slim margin.
Navarro would go on to run for city councilman, county supervisor, and finally congressman in 1996. This time, he was badly trounced. “Peter’s negatives were so high, there wasn’t any way we were gonna win that race,” Ross said.
Many who know Navarro and spoke with FP pointed to similarities between him and Trump. Both are explosive and engaging, single-minded and self-absorbed, and possess an ability to play to the camera and come up with a zinger. “I think he and Trump deserve each other,” said Kim Cox, chair of the county Democratic Party from that period.... (End excerpts)
It is no exaggeration to say that the "faceless" and "invisible" Navarro can be regarded as "the de facto second-in-command with tremendous influence over his current boss" in the US administration, just like some eunuchs historically ruled the Ming Dynasty behind the emperors. For instance, in a brazen display of supreme power in June, he slammed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, warning "There's a 'special place in hell' for him." It is obvious a breach of diplomatic protocol for an unelected aide to the US president to hurl such vitriol at the leader of an allied democracy. Even his current boss has never launched such a vicious and vitriolic attack on his opponents.
The following are excerpts from the June 11, 2018 news report by Gregg Re, an editor for Fox News, under the headline "There's a 'special place in hell' for Trudeau after his G7 'stunt,' top WH Trade Adviser Peter Navarro says" at foxnewsdotcom.
...."There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door," Navarro said. "And that's what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference. That's what weak, dishonest Justin Trudeau did. And that comes right from Air Force One."....
"And I'll tell you this, to my friends in Canada, that was one of the worst political miscalculations of a Canadian leader in modern Canadian history," Navarro continued. "All Justin Trudeau had to do was take the win. President Trump did the courtesy to Justin Trudeau to travel up to Quebec for that summit. He had other things, bigger things on his plate in Singapore.
"And what did Trudeau did -- do as soon as -- as soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace, Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand."
Navarro called Canada's high tariffs on American dairy products, and planned retaliatory tariffs, an "attack on our political system."
"And as far as this retaliation goes, the American press needs to do a much better job of what the Canadians are getting ready to do because it's nothing short of an attack on our political system and it's nothing short of Canada trying to raise its high protectionist barriers even higher on things like maple syrup and other goods," Navarro said..... (End excerpts)