White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks during an interview at the White House in Washington, April 6, 2020. （Photo: AP)
President Donald Trump is hardly admired for his political savviness or his geopolitical mastery. As a former TV celebrity and construction tycoon he is at best learning on the job.
As such, the American public, and the world, had better hope that he's surrounded by wise advisors especially when it comes to dealing with, say, a power as important as China.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the current situation is one characterized by the blind leading the blind. Trump's top advisor when it comes to China happens to be Peter Navarro. This self-proclaimed China expert is nothing but a charlatan whose knowledge of China extends as far as being able to read news reports on China peddled by the Western mass media.
He is unable to converse let alone read or write Chinese. By his own admission he hasn't even spent any significant time in China and has no formal academic training in China-related fields. As such, he is ridiculed by Western sinologists who distance themselves from him.
Navarro's ignorance hasn't prevented him from publishing a fistful of books full of hyperbole, inaccuracies that present a cartoonish caricature of China. Through all his books China is simplistically painted out as a villain that is responsible for just about all the ills in the world. He disregards China's vast historical, cultural and social complexities to instead concoct a simple conspiracy theory where the whole of China is acting in unison to bring down the U.S.
The simplicity of the scenes Navarro paints would make a Hollywood propaganda film blush. In "Death by China," Navarro warns purchasers of Chinese goods, "If you fancy death by explosion, fire, or electric shock, you can choose from a wide selection of booby-trapped extension cords, fans, lamps, overheating remote controls, exploding cell phones, and self-immolating boom boxes."
In "The Coming China Wars," China is presented as both a cowboy capitalist while simultaneously being a socialist threat; China is responsible for "phony 'Evista' medication made from Chinese chalk"; China is also responsible for acid rain over LA!
Navarro's lack of Chinese expertise is cringingly on display throughout his books. His simplistic analysis should be rightly described as "tabloid academia." This is mirrored in his sources which are made up almost entirely from U.S. press reports. This leads to an unvirtuous cycle where the distinction between academia and media is merged into one.
Such academic scholarship might be suitable for an institution like the "esteemed" Trump University. However, Navarro isn't partaking in one of President Trump's dodgy business scams. He is dealing with matters relating to the international affairs of the two most powerful states.
As the world should be coming together in solidarity, in typical Peter Navarro style, he accused China on April 27 of sending low-quality and even counterfeit coronavirus antibody testing kits to the United States and of "profiteering" from the pandemic.
Here Navarro uses his age-old trick that anything that comes or happens in the United States can be blamed on one single united entity that he calls China.
The truth of the situation is that there are countless companies involved in producing medical equipment at a stressful time. Sometimes there will be mistakes and of course there are bad actors.
What Navarro is actually complaining about is that China has a market system full of individual business actors. This market transformation that replaced China's previous planned economy came about precisely due to co-operation with the U.S.
The truth is the Chinese government has absolutely no interest in producing or sending out poor-quality coronavirus goods. For one, this harms the "Made in China" image and secondly these goods will find themselves being bought by the Chinese consumers too.
The real problem with a man like Navarro going from a harmless tabloid academic, with an agenda so obviously anti-China, into a position of influence is that he now commands a position where he can act to bring about his bellicose fantasies of conflict with China.
This should bring a shudder down anyone's spine. In our COVID-19 lockdown across the world we are realizing the fragility of human life and many are suffering economic hardships. Yet this would pale in comparison to the sufferings brought on the world should the U.S. initiate a war with China. Indeed, it could lead to a reset in civilization.
Taking a step back and realizing that China is not Iraq or Afghanistan but a state with a landmass, a productive capacity and a modern army that matches the U.S., we should closely examine what China – the state actor – actually wants in the world.
Looking at "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" which underpins China's domestic and international spheres, one can see that China's rise is one that seeks to rise within the current global institutions rather than go against them; it seeks peaceful development for the Global South and the developed nations alike; it seeks win-win cooperation in all fields and most of all China seeks to avoid war, which in China's historical experience, has proven to be the antitheses of cooperation and development.