Research & Analysis

US wants to ditch China, but will it actually do?

Introduction

US President Donald Trump made perhaps the strongest statement with regard to China, when he stated that US could totally snap ties with China. The President also stated that the US could save 500 Billion USD, while referring to annual US imports from China (in 2018, US trade deficit vis-à-vis China reached 419.5 Billion USD)

In addition to adopting a strong stance against China by the imposition of tariffs, and more recently, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Trump administration has initiated some strong measures against telecommunication giant Huawei. In 2019, the US Huawei, along with 114 of its overseas-related affiliates, had been added to the “entity list,” citing national security concerns  (as a result of being designated on the ‘entity list’, Huawei needs an export license requirement on all exports, reexports, and transfers of items subject to the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to Huawei and its listed affiliates)

On May 15, 2020, the Bureau of Security and Industry (BIS), US Department of Commerce, announced new rules, with the clear objective of restricting  Huawei’s ability to use U.S. technology and software and to design and manufacture its semiconductors overseas. According to the rules, Foreign semiconductor makers using American software and equipment need to obtain licenses for selling to Huawei.

US measures to reduce dependence upon China and change supply chains

There are also strong indicators, that the US is thinking of coming up with some measures which incentivize US companies to relocate from China (Trump ever since taking over the US Presidency has been pitching for the same) and to shift supply chains. There was talk of a ‘reshoring’ fund to the tune of 25 Billion USD. It is not just the Republican Party, but there is bipartisan support for re-thinking economic ties with China in a post-covid world (China made products accounted for, 18%, nearly 1/5th of US imports).

There is an especially strong consensus on the point, that dependence for essential commodities on China needs to be reduced (one bill passed by a Democrat and Republican seeks to set up a panel, which can reduce drug supply reliance on China). Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, had also been pushing for the country’s medical supply chains to be U.S.-based. Navarro had even suggested an executive order according to which Federal Agencies were required to buy US-made medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

With the aim of reducing dependence upon medical supplies from China, an important step was the recent decision of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services to award a four-year, $354 million contract to a private US company — Phlow Corp — to make Covid-19 drugs (this contract can be extended upto 812 Million USD over a period of 10 years).

Greater cooperation within Five Eye intelligence network to reduce dependence upon China

According to a report published by Henry Jackson Society all members of the five eyes intelligence network (Australia, UK, US, New Zealand and Canada) are dependent upon China for crucial imports. In the case of the US, it is dependent upon China for 424 categories of goods out of these 114 are linked to national infrastructure. Australia is the most dependent upon China – it imports 595 categories of goods from China, and 167 of these have applications in critical national infrastructure. The report also sought greater cooperation within the network for reducing dependence upon China.

It would be pertinent to point out, that not just the US, but Japan has earmarked over 2 Billion USD (2.2 Billion) for facilitating Japanese companies from China back to Japan, and other countries. The bulk of this package (2 Billion USD) is targeted towards getting Japanese companies to relocate to Japan, the remaining amount is meant to be used for helping Japanese companies to shift to other countries such as Vietnam.

Possibility of companies shifting from China and likely beneficiaries

In the midst of the US-China trade wars, a number of companies shifted their base from China to Vietnam. According to a study out of 56 firms which shifted their base from China, almost half (26) shifted to Vietnam due to the investor friendly environment

Even in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, some firms (including Google and Microsoft) had expressed their keenness to shift production of hardware from China to Vietnam

Recently, TSMC (Taiwan Semi Conductor Manufacturing Company), the world’s largest contract chip maker also announced that it would build a 12 Billion plant in Arizona, US (the plant would be operational in 2024). While the US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, hailed this announcement, TSMC is likely to be impacted by the Trump administration’s new rule which seek to restrict global chip supplies to Huawei.

Why China is a preferred destination for US companies

While some US companies may look to relocate from Beijing, it is important to have an understanding of ground realities, and the views of investors. China is attractive for many investors due to a plethora of factors; this includes the large Chinese market, a rising middle class, and the ever increasing popularity of American goods amongst young consumers. Even after the outbreak of the coronavirus, retailers like Walmart and Costco are seeking to expand their operations in China. A number of other American companies continue to bet on the Chinese market.

In a Survey of 25 companies (by the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai), 44% stated that decoupling of US and Chinese economies was impossible. This is a significant drop from October 2019, where 2/3rd — 66% — of companies surveyed had stated that US and Chinese economies were too closely intertwined, yet it still is substantial (what is important is that only 16% of those surveyed had emphatically stated that they would shift their production outside China).

Conclusion

While it is true, that some companies are likely to shift from China, Beijing will seek to introduce policies which woo foreign investors. China had in fact introduced incentives for foreign companies (including greater regulatory transparency) in the beginning of 2020.

Apart from this, it also possesses some major advantages, which have been discussed earlier, vis-à-vis other countries. While countries like US, Japan, Australia, India and Vietnam need to work jointly towards shifting supply chains, it is important to be realistic and pragmatic, and understand that supply chains are not likely to change overnight.

 

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Consulting Editor, Geopolitics with The DispatchTridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Centre, Washington DC. Mr Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-14), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; the role of Punjab in India-Pakistan ties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the changing nature of Indian federalism. He is a contributor for a number of publications including; The Hindu, The Diplomat, Modern Diplomacy and The Geopolitics.

 

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About the author

Tridivesh Singh Maini

Consulting Editor, Geopolitics with The Dispatch, Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Centre, Washington DC. Mr Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-14), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; the role of Punjab in India-Pakistan ties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the changing nature of Indian federalism. He is a contributor for a number of publications including; The Hindu, The Diplomat, Modern Diplomacy and The Geopolitics.