In San Diego County from 1992 through 2001, Peter Navarro ran unsuccessfully for mayor, county supervisor, city council, and Congress. Then he became an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Now he is in Washington DC, and his books and documentaries are making waves around the world.
Conceivably, policies he is pushing could generate both a trade war and a shootin’ war between the two great powers, the United States and China. Gulp. Through books and documentaries, Navarro has become recognized for his insights on China’s dirty trade tricks, and he has written a book and directed a series of documentary films on the possibility of an all-out war with China.
Trade and military scholars generally consider Navarro a jingoist — one who advocates belligerence. As Charles Tiefer wrote in Forbes, “Navarro is not at all just a ‘trade hawk’ about China. He is a ‘hawk’ about China across the board, in all the theatres of struggle, including the military. Navarro is, about China,… a war hawk.”
Navarro has written or cowritten three books warning of China risks: The Coming China Wars (2006), Death by China (2011), and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (2015). A video documentary accompanied Death by China and a series of ten videos accompany his frightening 2015 book, exploring the possibility of armed conflict between the two countries. He recently revised his earlier work into a new book, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won.
Death by China and the companion film got some malodorous reviews: “dramatic overkill,” “alarming and alarmist,” “inflammatory language and cheesy graphics,” and “hyperbole” were some of the media barbs heaved at it. True enough, both the book and documentary were jeremiads. The movie featured a bloody knife thrust into a map of the United States.
Conventional economists sneer at Navarro’s views. Most are in favor of free trade. They have no use for Navarro’s pushing for stiff tariffs. The last thing they want is a trade war in which countries erect barriers against other nations. And very few Americans favor combat with China or any other country.
In one of his wisest moves, Navarro got the 2011 book and the documentary into the hands of a TV star/New York real estate tycoon, Donald Trump, who also doesn’t appeal to conventional scholars. Trump gobbled up Navarro’s messages, seeing them as campaign fodder for a planned run for the presidency. When Trump tossed his hat in the ring in 2015, Navarro served as a policy advisor.
After Trump was elected president — using much of Navarro’s prose in the campaign — the professor hit the big time. After the election, Trump named Navarro to a new position: director of the White House National Trade Council.
Navarro says that China manipulates its currency to get an advantage over trade partners; illegally subsidizes products; pays slave wages to labor that gets terrible medical care; permits rampant pollution, thus cutting costs and taking further advantage of other countries; puts out products that are so cheaply made they can poison people; and cheats every other way it can.
Trump also liked Navarro’s 2006 book, which dripped with purple prose. Navarro wrote that “the raw stench of a gut-wrenching, sweat-stained fear” hangs in the air as venal and incompetent Communist party officials are at the steering wheel. Whew!
Says the Guardian, “The Chinese government is a despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power that reigns over the world’s leading cancer factory, its most prolific propaganda mill and the biggest police state and prison on the face of the earth. That is the view of Peter Navarro, the man chosen by Donald Trump to lead a new presidential office for U.S. trade and industrial policy.” This is likely to add to Beijing’s anxieties over Trump’s plans for U.S.-China relations.
Elazar Advisors, writing in Seeking Alpha, say bluntly, “A trade war is coming.” Elazar picks up some quotes from the Death by China video: “What’s wrong with taking China to task? They pirate our technology. They pirate our intellectual property rights. They counterfeit our goods and services and no administration has the backbone to stand up to them.…When you shop, always read the label. If the label says ‘Made in China,’ think about your job, think about your safety, think about China’s rapid military buildup.” Elazar says that if Trump and Navarro get their way, the stocks of companies with major China business, such as San Diego’s Qualcomm (more than half its revenues come from China), will get hit, at least initially.
In one of the ten videos about possible war with China, Navarro says that China, the world’s largest country, could one day have a military that dwarfs that of the United States. This statement may well have motivated Trump to campaign for more military spending — particularly Navy spending.
The Trump/Navarro saber rattling has already shaken up China. Some say that with its economy slowing, China does not want a trade war. But with the Trump administration saying that the United States won’t let China access American-held islands in the South China Sea, China is now suggesting it might beef up its nuclear arsenal.
Navarro may have convinced Trump of the wisdom of a bellicose policy toward China. But there are many roadblocks. First, Trump tosses out policy suggestions and quickly has to retract them. What does he really believe? Other nations seem to be trying to tame Trump’s belligerence.
Political promises evanesce mysteriously in Washington. Christopher Balding, a Peking University finance professor, told the Guardian that Navarro may not be able to put into effect his “alarmist” notions on China. “Navarro is going to quickly realize the constraints that he is under.… They come as professors, they come as businessmen and they get into office as the secretary-of-whatever and they quickly realize… that they cannot just implement their pet idea or their classroom theory.” There will be “strong push-back” from the United States business community if fat tariffs are imposed on imports from China.
Read more about Navarro, including four cover stories he wrote for the Reader.