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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

Oct 27, 2020 - World

Senators introduce bipartisan resolution to label Xinjiang abuses "genocide"

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

A cadre of bipartisan senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday to formally label the Chinese government's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang as "genocide."

Why it matters: China has faced global backlash for its repression in Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to surveillance, torture and detention in mass "re-education" camps. But genocide is a serious crime under international law, and the U.S. invokes the formal label only in rare cases.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Oct 28, 2020 - Economy & Business

China announces removal of more currency controls

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese policymakers are now taking aim at currency controls that have kept the renminbi from weakening in recent years as the currency has rallied to its strongest level against the dollar in years and the country attempts to attract more outside capital.

What's happening: Chinese banks have stopped using the counter-cyclical factor recently, which means Beijing will give up some influence over the exchange rate, Bloomberg reports, citing the website of the China Foreign Exchange Trade System.

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022
  2. Politics: Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president" — Space Force's No. 2 general tests positive for coronavirus
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases — Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.