Yet Peter Navarro, trade adviser to President Donald Trump, downplayed the pain from the trade war and stressed the need to stay unified against China.
“We are dealing with a strategic rival – and they are trying to buckle our knees,” Navarro told CNN’s Jim Sciutto at the CITIZEN by CNN conference in New York.
Navarro was quick to say China’s economy is “hurting” – and it is, with growth slowing to the weakest pace since 1992 – but refused to acknowledge the damage at home.
“We are at the lowest unemployment rate since man walked on the moon,” Navarro said.
Yet the erratic trade war between the United States and China has also exacerbated the global economic slowdown and stung America’s factories. The US manufacturing sector in September suffered its worst month in a decade. Executives and economists pinned the blame on the tit-for-tat tariff battle with China.
Farmers have been caught in the crossfire, with China halting its purchases of soybeans and other agricultural products in retaliation for tariffs.
“This one’s self-inflicted by our President, and we defintiely agreed with him at the beginning, but it doesn’t appear that there’s a plan B,” Gary Wertish, the president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, recently told CNN.
Navarro downplayed the dissent from farmers.
“They love President Trump in farm country,” Navarro said. “No one has the backs of those farmers more [than Trump].”
Navarro expressed cautious optimism about trade negotiations between the United States and China.
“We are on a glide path now for a Phase 1 deal,” Navarro said. “As the president has said many times, we’ll either get a great deal or we won’t. We’ll see what happens.”
Navarro stressed that the battle with China is more than just a trade war; it’s about trying to address broader issues, including intellectual property theft, currency manipulation and shipments of fentanyl into the United States.
“Your computers are at risk every day from Chinese government officials hacking into them to steal your information. That’s not about trade,” he said.
The democracy protests in Hong Kong have posed another obstacle in the US-China trade talks.
Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping in June that the United States would remain quiet on those protests in Hong Kong while trade talks continued, two sources told CNN earlier this month.
Navarro denied that the Trump administration would go soft on China over the unrest in Hong Kong in exchange for a trade agreement.
“It’s not who we are,” Navarro said, adding that he hasn’t seen an indication that’s “ever” been on the table.