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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's rhetoric on China has tended to run hotter than his actions — until now.

Why it matters: Even at the height of Trump's trade war, his administration never hit China as hard, as fast, and on as many fronts as it is right now.

  • Thursday night, Trump escalated his campaign to claw apart the Chinese and American tech worlds with executive orders that threaten to ban both TikTok and massive global messaging app WeChat.
  • On Friday, the Treasury Department sanctioned Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader for "implementing Beijing's policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes."
  • That move follows sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a powerful paramilitary organization, for its role in the mass detention of ethnic minorities.
  • The U.S. has closed China’s consulate in Houston, stepped up its efforts to keep Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of allies' 5G networks, and even warned blue chip American companies that they could face legal penalties for doing Beijing's bidding.
  • Health Secretary Alex Azar will soon become the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in four decades, in a pointed signal of support for the self-governing island that has infuriated Beijing.

Between the lines: In some cases, Trump has been responding to China's actions — most notably, the draconian security law for Hong Kong. But there may be more to the sudden offensive.

  1. Politics: Trump is betting a tough-on-China push will resonate with voters in an election year, and his advisers — including trade adviser Peter Navarro, on our Pro Rata podcast — often cite polling suggesting he’s right to do so.
  2. Trade: Trump has admitted his desire to secure a trade deal with China caused him to pull punches in the past, including over the mass detentions in Xinjiang. Trade talks are now on ice, perhaps permanently.
  3. Markets: Thanks to the $2 trillion CARES Act and the Federal Reserve's promise to do "whatever it takes" to support markets, investors have largely ignored trade war headlines and continued to bid stock prices higher.

The bottom line: It feels as though we’ve seen a decades’-worth of hawkish policies proposed or executed just in the past few weeks, notes Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahmian. 

  • Many of these steps carry significant consequences, and not just for China.

Go deeper

Nov 15, 2020 - World

15 Asia-Pacific countries form world's largest trading bloc

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (R) is pictured on a TV monitor next to leaders of other country signatories during the signing ceremony for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership at a virtual summit, hosted from Hanoi. Photo: Nhac Nguyen /AFP via Getty Images

China and 14 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region on Sunday formed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Why it matters: The RCEP is the world's biggest free trading bloc, accounting for almost a third of all economic activity.

The elusive political power of Mexican Americans

Data: Pew Research Center, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Mexican Americans make up the nation's largest Latino group, yet they remain politically outshined by more recently arrived Cuban Americans.

Why it matters: The disparities in political power between Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans reflect the racial, historical, geographical and economic differences within Latino cultures in the U.S.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
49 mins ago - Health

The barriers to vaccine passports

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vaccine passports could become available soon to help people resume their livesbut they face numerous scientific, social and political barriers to being accepted.

The big picture: Reliable and accessible proof of vaccine-induced protection from the novel coronavirus could speed international travel and economic reopening, but obstacles to its wide-scale adoption are so great it may never fully arrive.