DURING HIS term in office, Donald Trump has often bashed China while occasionally praising its leader, Xi Jinping. Similar two-mindedness characterises his administration. China hawks, led by Robert Lighthizer, his trade representative, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, have tussled for influence with more dovish figures such as Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, who have tried to prevent a rupture between the two giants. Companies and investors from both countries have watched the contest closely.
In the past 18 months the hawks have been ascendant. Now, blaming China for spreading the covid-19 virus that has pushed America and the rest of the world into recession, thus helping to dent the president’s chances of re-election in November, they have prevailed.
On August 6th Mr Trump issued two startling executive orders giving American firms 45 days to unwind all commercial relations with ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, a video-sharing app popular with youngsters, and with WeChat, a Chinese messaging and payments super-app widely used by Chinese around the world to communicate with those back home (see China section). The previous day Mr Pompeo unveiled a “Clean Network” policy to protect America’s telecoms infrastructure and services against “aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese…