Trump picks UC Irvine professor, China hawk to lead trade council

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In another sign that he intends to shake up relations with China, President-elect Donald Trump named economist Peter Navarro to lead a newly created White House council on trade.

The University of California-Irvine professor, who advised Trump during the campaign, has sharply criticized China's economic and military policies in books and videos. In addition to leading the new White House National Trade Council, Navarro will be director of trade and industrial policy.

In a statement, the Trump transition team said the creation of the council "demonstrates the president-elect's determination to make American manufacturing great again."

Trump says China's unfair trade practices are responsible for wiping out American factory jobs. U.S. manufacturers have cut 5 million jobs since 2000. Trump has threatened to impose taxes on Chinese imports and to label China a "currency manipulator" for allegedly pushing its currency lower to give Chinese exporters a price advantage.

Navarro, author of "Death By China," also endorses a hard line toward China. Navarro has dismissed warnings that imposing sanctions on China could trigger a destructive trade war if China retaliates by targeting U.S. imports. He and Wilbur Ross — an investment banker tapped to be Trump's Commerce secretary — have argued that China and other U.S. trade partners have more to lose in a trade conflict because they depend so much on the U.S. market.

Speaking on AirTalk in 2012 about a documentary he adapted from the book, Navarro criticized what he called China's "weapons of job destruction" — currency manipulation, illegal export subsidies and environmental degradation from industrial operations.

"Whether you're in Culver City, whether you're in Dayton, Ohio, or somewhere in between, you cannot compete with state-owned enterprises that dump things into the river, their air, use slave labor," he said. "I’m a free trader, but this is not free trade. It’s state-run capitalism designed to steal jobs from the rest of the world. And they’re very, very good at it, and we're very, very bad at it."

Navarro has also said most of the trade deals America has should be renegotiated.

If Navarro and Trump were able to get better deals for the U.S., that would be beneficial. Manufacturing employment has been down in Southern California since 1990.

But most economists are very skeptical that you could get those jobs back, and the local economy depends a lot on imports, particularly from China. Thousands of people are employed in trucking, at the ports and in the Inland Empire in warehouses that process all those goods from China.

In addition, many of the products that Southern California companies do still export depend on existing trade agreements and include components from other countries. Any slowdown in trade would be bad for California’s economy.

Trump has already rattled U.S.-China relations. Earlier this month, he broke protocol by taking a call from the president of Taiwan. China views Taiwan as a renegade province and considers any acknowledgement that it has its own head of state as a grave insult. Trump also said he did not feel bound by the longstanding "one-China" policy in which the United States agrees that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are part of a single China.

This story has been updated.

With contributions from Associated Press reporter Paul Wiseman

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