China hawk Navarro has Trump's ear


Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump's increasingly tough measures on trade, including Thursday's latest crackdown on China, demonstrate the rising influence of Peter Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist who has long railed against the threat from Beijing.

Trump announced tariffs on as much as $60 billion in Chinese imports to retaliate against the alleged theft of American intellectual property.

The move comes just two weeks after the White House slapped steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, actions also aimed at China which were crafted under Navarro's watch.

He has advised Trump since his upstart presidential campaign, when candidate Trump vowed to crack down on unfair trade practices he argued have destroyed American jobs and left once-mighty US cities a shadow of their former selves.

Navarro's works include the documentary film, "Death by China: how America lost its manufacturing base," connected to his 2011 book showing China as a serial trade cheater, subsidizing export-oriented industries and manipulating its currency.

The consequences, including a harsh deindustrialization of the United States, demand a tough response to China, or the "Dragon," Navarro argued.

"Unless all of us rise up together to confront the Dragon, the rest of our lives and the lives of our children will be far less prosperous -- and far more dangerous -- than the Golden Age in which many of us grew up," he wrote in the book's first chapter.

- Outside the mainstream -

The silver haired, polished Navarro, who will be 69 in July, looks the part of university lecturer, which he was for many years at the University of California at Irvine. But his views on trade are far from mainstream.

While most economists laud the North American Free Trade Agreement as a boon for the US economy, Navarro has been a constant critic of the accord and of international trade in general. In Trump, he found an eager acolyte.

Trump threatened to pull out of NAFTA, but held off after ordering the 24-year-old treaty be renegotiated with partners Canada and Mexico.

That was after Trump signed an executive order formally ending US participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in one of his first official acts as president in January 2017.

Despite these early signs of trade hawkishness by the Trump administration, Navarro operated largely in the background for the first year in office.

Former White House economic advisor Gary Cohn took a leading role in trade policy, and Navarro was required to copy Cohn on all emails.

But Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who backs free trade, was outmaneuvered on the steel and aluminum tariffs, and he announced on March 6 he would leave the Trump administration.

-'Visionary' -

With Cohn's departure, Navarro has become a frequent spokesman for the Trump administration on business news broadcasts.

He told CNBC last week that Trump planned to take punitive measures against Beijing over its "theft" of US intellectual property, the measures announced Thursday.

Navarro was named to Trump's team soon after the election and quickly labeled a "visionary" by the American president. But his appointment spurred immediate unease at Beijing and many observers have seen his standing within the Trump universe as a proxy for the administration's stance on trade.

Long affiliated with the Democratic party, which historically has been more protectionist of the two major parties, Navarro received a doctorate in economics from Harvard.

Born to a saxophonist father and secretary mother, he was raised by his mother after the two divorced in Bethesda, Maryland, an upscale suburb of the nation's capital.