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Trump Administration Announces New Restrictions On China


Peter Navarro is on the line. He's an adviser to President Trump and an advocate of the president's protectionist trade policies, which are having a big week. Tomorrow, steel and aluminum tariffs are supposed to take effect on U.S. allies. And yesterday, the administration announced new restrictions on China, which we will discuss here. Mr. Navarro, welcome back to the program.

PETER NAVARRO: Mr. Inskeep, how are you, Sir?

INSKEEP: OK. Just a week ago, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the trade war with China was on hold. So why did you resume?

NAVARRO: There's a leading question. First of all...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Well, it's just a question.

NAVARRO: Well played, Sir (laughter). That was an unfortunate soundbite, basically for two reasons. One is that what we're having with China is a trade dispute, plain and simple. They engage in a whole range of unfair trade practices. They run up a $370 billion trade surplus with us, which costs us over 1 million factory jobs a year. And President Trump basically is going to address that with appropriate measures based on appropriate investigations by people like the United States Trade Representative.

INSKEEP: You mean unfortunate soundbite by Steven Mnuchin to say the trade war was on hold because you'd like to think of it in different terms and it's not on hold.

NAVARRO: Yeah, it's a trade dispute, first of all. And the second thing is as the president has said, we lost the trade war long ago. President Obama, Bush, Clinton lost this when we got into bad trade deals like NAFTA, which swelled our trade deficit from zero to $70 billion with Mexico. And when China got into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which President Clinton pushed, that's been just devastating. We've lost over 70,000 factories, 5 million manufacturing jobs.

And these are the kinds of things that President Trump's trying to do not with his protectionist trade policies but rather with simply a defense of America's manufacturing and defense industrial base. So...

INSKEEP: Well, let's - the numbers you give, I mean, we can talk about stating the problem. But let's talk about the strategy for dealing with it.

NAVARRO: Exactly.

INSKEEP: We get the impression that the products that you're aiming at with these new tariffs are Chinese products that China wants to be a world leader in in this plan that they have a, 2025 strategy, things like artificial intelligence, new energy vehicles like electric cars, robotics, that sort of thing.

NAVARRO: Correct.

INSKEEP: What is your plan here? What are you - are you intending to stop China from dominating those industries?

NAVARRO: Exactly. And here's the strategy, based again on an investigation by the United States Trade Representative. We have a situation, Steve, where China does four things. They steal our technology, everybody knows that. They force the transfer of our technology from American companies operating on Chinese soil as a condition of market access. That's a more subtle thing that many Americans aren't aware about. They evade our export controls, which are the controls put in place to prevent the transfer of militarily sensitive technologies.

And they come in now with their state-owned enterprises and state-backed funds increasingly into places like Silicon Valley and buy up artificial intelligence, robotics...


NAVARRO: ...And other startups. So the statement yesterday, historic in nature, is a twofold. We're going to, one, the president is going to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese exports to us. Now, what are those exports? Those exports are precisely the exports in these China 2025 industries. What China does as a matter of government policy is they target an industry...

INSKEEP: They do - and I just want to keep moving here because we've got limited amount of time. You're correct that China has picked these industries, and they want to be a leader.

NAVARRO: Targeted.

INSKEEP: You're saying you want to impose tariffs on those products.

NAVARRO: To defend our companies.

INSKEEP: You want to stop also - you also want to stop Chinese investment in Silicon Valley. But can you really stop them from being world leaders in those industries?

NAVARRO: That's an interesting question. What we can do is we can stop them from putting our high-tech companies out of business with the tariffs. That's the purpose of the tariffs. What we can stop them from is buying up our crown jewels of technology. Now, as a practical matter, America is the best innovator in the world. The problem we have now is every time we innovate something new, China comes in and buys it or steals it. That's got to stop. And whether you're on the right or left or center, everybody agrees that this is happening.

And when you have Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio on the same sheet of music saying we've got to stop it, you know you're doing something right because this has got to stop.

INSKEEP: Well, then why is it that the president then suddenly said that he wanted to cut a break to ZTE, this Chinese tech company that repeatedly violated U.S. rules and was sanctioned and then violated even the agreement to get out of the sanctions. Why does the president want to cut them a break, given everything you've just said?

NAVARRO: Forgive me, Steve. As a U.S. government official, I cannot comment on that matter as of yet because it's a law enforcement matter. I can't say any more than that. That's my instructions.

INSKEEP: You can't comment in any way on the president's...

NAVARRO: No, no. As a U.S. government official - on the ZTE case, it's clear. It's a law enforcement issue. I simply can't comment on it. So if we can, it'd be best to move on.

INSKEEP: It doesn't fit with your strategy at all, though?

NAVARRO: It's a law enforcement matter. Justice Department is involved, Commerce is involved...


NAVARRO: ...The district court's involved. Let's move on.

INSKEEP: OK, understood, understood. That's fine. Let me ask about another thing that is on people's minds as all this has happened.

NAVARRO: Yes, Sir.

INSKEEP: As you know, the president has maintained ownership of his company, has business interests around the world. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, has business interests in China and just got a bunch more trademarks approved. How do you reassure people that in all of his decisions, the president is acting in the national interest rather than his interest or his family's business interests?

NAVARRO: I think it's unfortunate when anybody takes the discussion in that direction when you and I are having a really important conversation about a historic decision made yesterday about a serious national security threat and a serious threat to our economic prosperity. That's what I'm focused on, Steve. And we have not much time to talk about these things. And I think the American people would rather focus on how to stop China from taking the seed corn of our future prosperity.


NAVARRO: So that's what I'm focused on. Can we stay on that, Sir?

INSKEEP: Well, we've got about 30 seconds.

NAVARRO: No, no, let's just stay on that.

INSKEEP: I'm going to let you do it. I'm going to let you do it. I'm going to mention two things. One, people are thinking about Ivanka Trump. The other thing is you mention seed corn. In about a sentence, are you ready for the possibility that the Chinese retaliate against these tariffs by hitting U.S. agricultural products?

NAVARRO: Of course, we're ready for anything. And we've spent literally months through the interagency process basically working out our strategy and our tactics and our plan. And at the end of the day, what we need to do as a country, and the president has courage and vision to do this, is to stand up to Chinese economic predation.

INSKEEP: Peter Navarro, we've got to leave it right there, but we'll keep talking. Thanks very much. Peter Navarro on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.