Daleep Singh, Deputy National Security Advisor to US President Joe Biden, wants US to reduce tariff on Chinese goods to combat rising inflation in the US. Inflation is a critical concern for President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are falling as the costs of energy, food and other staples increase, and his Democrats are at serious risk of losing their majorities in Congress in midterm congressional elections in November, reports Reuters.
Speaking at an event in Washington DC, Singh suggested US could lower tariffs imposed by the former Trump government on a host of non-strategic Chinese goods such as bicycles or apparel to help combat inflation. Tariffs should be used to advance strategic priorities such as ‘strengthening critical supply chains and maintaining U.S. preeminence in foundational technologies and to support national security’, he said.
Singh’s intriguing comments come as Washington is urging Beijing to refrain from undermining sweeping sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine. Ironically, Daleep Singh had recently threatened threatened Bharat with ‘consequences’ for purchasing additional oil from Russia and exploring an alternate Rupee-Rouble payment mechanism. He had said “China and Russia have now declared a no limits partnership…the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breached the Line of [Actual] Control, that Russia would come running to India’s defence.”
Singh is considered to be the architect of economic sanctions against Russia in its war against Ukraine. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has previously said lowering Trump-era tariffs on imported goods from China could help ease some inflationary pressures, although she stressed it would be no “game-changer.”
Singh also gave a clean chit of sorts to the Chinese by stating the Biden administration believed Chinese banks and companies were ‘largely being cautious and steering clear of helping Russia to evade Western sanctions’, which underscored China’s interest in continuing to trade with the West. Strange words from someone who, while in Bharat, talked about a ‘no limits partnership’ between Russia and China.
Multiple reports suggest that Daleep Singh’s optimism on China toeing the Western line might be misplaced –
China as Russia’s Backdoor to Western Sanctions – March 15, 2022
Chinese Tech Companies Deepen Roots in Russia in Spite of U.S. Sanctions – March 18, 2022
Russia’s pivot to China for payment alternatives – March 27, 2022
While it is true that some Chinese organizations have distanced themselves from Russia in recent days to avoid being targeted by Western sanctions, both governments have reiterated their deep bonds ever since the war in Ukraine started. The Chinese have condemned what they called illegal and counter productive Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its action in Ukraine.
Clearly, while China has officially maintained neutrality on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, it has at the same time forthrightly blamed expansionist moves by US-led NATO for pushing Russia-Ukraine tension to ‘breaking point’.
While Daleep Singh is talking of reducing tariffs on Chinese goods and giving it certificates of good behavior, his boss US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said the U.S. is concerned that China could use its economic relationship with Russia to blunt sanctions.
It is clear that the US administration and other Western nations are sending mixed signals on almost everything related to the Ukraine-Russia conflict. While Bharat has been berated publicly for buying some additional Russian oil, as EAM Jaishankar correctly pointed out, Bharat’s purchases are negligible compared to what Europe continues to buy from Russia.
US is still purchasing Uranium from Russia, as that is a ‘critical sector’ for it. The German chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview published on Friday that a Western embargo on Russian gas imports probably wouldn’t end Putin’s war in Ukraine, and could trigger an economic crisis.
So why shouldn’t a lower-middle-income country like Bharat try to control rising fuel inflation and shore up its energy security in a volatile international scenario by buying some discounted Russian crude oil? Daleep Singh if fine buying Chinese goods to contain US inflation and boost his President’s electoral prospects, but he wants Bharat to ignore inflation concerns when every other month the country goes to some poll or the other?
Isn’t China the real threat to US interests everywhere? From the Indo-Pacific (where US partners with Bharat, Japan and Australia under the Quad umbrella), Taiwan, North Korea, trans-Pacific trade? Yet, US officials like Daleep Singh are willing to cut slack to China, are willing to ignore its very real human rights abuses in Xinjiang?
The plain truth is that rhetoric about ‘league of democracies, shared values, rules-based order’ notwithstanding, US and Western decision-making is driven solely by their national interests. They cannot afford to sanction China because they are economically just too dependent on it. So the bar is set very high for China, and very low for Bharat.
It really takes some cheek for a Daleep Singh to come to Bharat and berate us for not following Western diktats. Especially when US continues to nurture a terrorist state like Pakistan that aims to bleed and destabilize Bharat every day through terror strikes, narcotics smuggling, sleeper cells, and information warfare – not to forget its ongoing genocide of its own Hindu population. And when USA continues to destabilize Bharat through its evangelical-NGO complex that is provided cover fire in name of ‘international religious freedom’ by biased US govt. bodies like USCIRF.
But the blame also lies with India’s elites, who since the end of the Cold War have created this perception in Western minds about Bharat being a soft state that will do what it is ordered to. Its good to see that a new breed of technocratic leaders like S. Jaishankar are finally changing that perception.