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Trump's Tariff War, Brexit and East Asia Spats ... Stocks Plunge

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Message Arshad M Khan

Can we believe their claims to represent the ordinary people if Donald Trump went to private military school and his friend British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to Eton, one of England's elite prep schools, where he was a King's Scholar?


Founded by Henry VI to educate 70 poor scholars (poor being a relative term), they were boarded and educated. Open to competition now, King's Scholars still live separately, that is, in the College. Intellectually an elite, their fellow Etonians who are not scholars are labeled oppidans or 'townies'. These pay their way at Eton and naturally belong to the upper-rich tier of society. Not that Boris was not, but it should be clear by now, he is no fool, despite his tomfoolery.


But even for Boris the Irish gordian knot awaits. He wants to leave Brexit, even without a deal, and reinstate the border between North and South in Ireland -- a prospect not at all palatable to southern Ireland's government, or for that matter to the people. The previous prime minister Theresa May's proposal was to make the Irish Sea the customs border. But parliament voted it down as it could lead to Northern Ireland drifting away from the United Kingdom.


Her withdrawal agreement also smoothed out the trade jolts through a transition period during which other areas like business licenses and residency permits would be negotiated. The UK then potentially could become like Switzerland, which is like a member without being one through many mini-agreements.


Boris has been doing the rounds. Angela Merkel had soothing words; Macron in France was more blunt. There could be a few tweaks to the withdrawal agreement but the Irish backstop, as the open border is called, was non-negotiable. Where do we go from here? If anyone thinks it is not relevant to us in the US, pause a moment to focus on your 401K and imagine what will happen to the stock market with an untidy breakup carrying severe economic consequences for Britain and costs, although less, for Europe, particularly Germany with its UK exports.


Making matters worse is the increasingly acrimonious war of words between two close US allies on the other side of the world: Japan and South Korea. It has led to the latter abandoning a military intelligence-sharing agreement. Bitter feelings from Japan's colonial past in Korea are never too far beneath the surface and without Washington's steady hand holding its two important allies together, they have bubbled up. Trump, so intent on trade issues and lacking diplomatic sophistication, has become an example for others to emulate, to air differences and to act upon them. If it leads to chaos, it is Trump's chaos with no one else to blame.


The G7 meeting in Biarritz, a resort in the southwest of France close to the Spanish border, awaits Trump with memories of his early walk out in Canada at the previous one never far from anyone's mind. This time Boris Johnson is also there fretting about Brexit on the side. What can we expect? Not much when Macron, preferring to err on the side of caution, has already abandoned the customary summit communique signed by all the members. Trump did find time to slap new tariffs on China, increasing his earlier rates by 5 percent; China responded swiftly, increasing their tariffs on $75 billion of U.S. goods by an additional 5 or 10 percent selectively. Stocks plunged.


Trump has clearly chosen to abandon the fig leaves of mutual self-deception that smooth relations between friends with (sometimes) contradictory interests.

 

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 
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