Beijing counter-strike over US sanctions list

Huawei has been targeted by Washington over fears that it could be used to infiltrate US security networks. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 September 2020

Beijing counter-strike over US sanctions list

  • Foreign enterprises in the firing line under planned punitive measures

BEIJING: China said on Saturday it had launched a mechanism enabling it to restrict foreign entities, a much-expected move seen as retaliation to US penalties against Chinese companies such as telecom giant Huawei.

An announcement by the Ministry of Commerce did not mention any specific foreign entities, but broadly spelled out the factors that could trigger punitive measures, which may include fines, restrictions on import export business or investment in China, and the entry of personnel or equipment into the country.

It covers “foreign enterprises, other organizations and individuals,” it said.

The launch of the “unreliable entities list” ups the ante in the escalating commercial fight with the Trump administration, which has used its own “entity list” to bar Huawei from the US market on national security grounds.

The announcement also came a day after the United States ordered a ban on downloads of popular video app TikTok and effectively blocked the use of the Chinese super-app WeChat on similar grounds, which prompted a threat by China to strike back.

Beijing would consider sanctions on entities whose activities “harm China’s national sovereignty, security, and development interests” or violate “internationally accepted economic and trade rules.”

That language closely tracks wording that Beijing has used to repeatedly denounce US actions against Chinese companies.

The ministry said that if an entity is suspected of violating the provisions, an investigation would be launched under China’s Cabinet, the State Council.

The foreign party in question would have an opportunity to defend its conduct to the Chinese investigators.

Chinese enterprises that rely on business with the targeted organizations also will be allowed to apply for exemptions from any ban on doing business with them, as the US system allows.

The US and China are engaged in an escalating trade battle centered on technology.  Huawei, the world’s leading supplier of telecoms networking equipment, has been a particular target.

Washington has used its own entity list to essentially ban Huawei from the US market and prevent American companies from doing any business with it or with Huawei-affiliated organizations.

The US says Huawei could be used by Chinese state security to infiltrate communications networks.

China’s government and Huawei deny that, saying the US has offered no evidence supporting the claim.

Under a US order on Friday, the Tencent-owned WeChat app would lose functionality in the US from Sunday. TikTok users will be banned from installing updates but could keep accessing the service through Nov. 12.

China has for years blocked or restricted leading US tech companies from operating in its market, including Facebook, Twitter and Google.


‘The stock market, stupid’ — Trump’s claim is looking hollow 

Updated 29 October 2020

‘The stock market, stupid’ — Trump’s claim is looking hollow 

  • The timing of the Wall Street downturn is the worst possible for the incumbent, who has declared every new peak in the S&P as a personal victory throughout his presidency
  • The likes of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook are due to declare their earnings for the third quarter, and how those numbers are received could give the indices a boost

Before the US election of 1992, candidate Bill Clinton summed up what he saw as the reason he would become president: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He was proved right as voters disowned the economic policies of President George H.W. Bush in their droves to elect Clinton. 

Until the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage the US economy in March, President Donald Trump would have been able to make the same claim. For the four years of his presidency, the US economy had continued the progress initiated by his predecessor to recover from the 2009 global financial crisis.

By most measures — growth, employment, inflation — the Trump years had been good, and those on the top of the pile had even more reason to be grateful thanks to the big tax cuts he had made a flagship policy.

The pandemic changed all that in the space of a few weeks as lockdown measures shocked the economy. Jobless claims soared to all-time records, bankruptcies and closures affected large swathes of American business, and gross domestic product collapsed. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the American economy will shrink by 4.3 percent this year.

But Trump could still claim instead that “it’s the stock market, stupid” as a reason he could be re-elected. Mainly because of the trillions of dollars injected into the economy in the form of fiscal stimulus, US share indices had swum against the economic tide.

The S&P 500 index hit an all-time high in September, allowing Trump to boast that under his administration, investors and the millions of people whose livelihoods depended on the financial industry had never had it so good.

Now, it looks as though even that final claim is looking more fragile. For the past couple of days, US and European stock markets have gone into reverse as investors took fright at the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the re-imposition of economic lockdowns in many countries.

Trump might argue, with a little justification, that Wall Street is worried about the prospect of Joe Biden being elected president by the end of next week. Certainly the contender, by definition, is something of an unknown quantity in terms of economic policy.

He is also known to favor some policies — such as tighter regulation on environmental sectors, more spending on health care, and higher taxes for federal services and projects — that have traditionally been regarded as contrary to the philosophy of “free market” America.

In particular, the energy industry is worried about possible restrictions on shale oil and gas production that Biden and his “green” team are believed to favor. However, it should be pointed out that the Democratic candidate has specifically said he will not ban shale fracking, as some environmentalists want.

In any interesting side-story, the state of Texas — one of the biggest in terms of electoral college votes — would seem to have more to lose than any other if the energy scare stories about Biden were true. Yet the contest there between Democrats and Republicans is the closest it has been for decades, according to opinion polls.

The timing of the Wall Street downturn is the worst possible for the incumbent, who has declared every new peak in the S&P as a personal victory throughout his presidency and a sign of his deal-doing prowess. If even this claim is denied to him in the final week of campaigning, it would make the uphill battle against the polls even more difficult.

There is a chance that Big Tech might offer some relief. The likes of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook are due to declare their earnings for the third quarter, and how those numbers are received could give the indices a boost, given that they were the ones largely responsible for the big market gains earlier in the year.

But for Trump, any such respite might be too little, too late. It looks as though Wall Street and Main Street are finally catching up in their gloom, and there is nothing the president can do about it.