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Politics

Trump signals hard line on China with pick for new trade czar

Staunch critic of Beijing will steer revamped trade and commerce regime

Peter Navarro, tapped to head the White House National Trade Council, is known as a China hard-liner.

WASHINGTON -- The selection of "Death by China" director Peter Navarro to lead the new White House National Trade Council is the strongest indication yet that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is gearing up to take the fight to the country he blames for stealing American jobs.

"We've lost 70,000 factories since China entered the World Trade Organization," Trump said at an October rally, a refrain often repeated on the campaign trail. He has also promised to label the world's second-largest economy a currency manipulator and impose a 45% tariff on imports from the country.

Trump has University of California professor Navarro to thank for influencing these positions. "I read one of Peter's books on America's trade problems years ago and was impressed by the clarity of his arguments and thoroughness of his research," the president-elect said in a news release announcing the appointment.

"Death by China," the documentary Navarro directed, pulls no punches with an animated title sequence showing America getting stabbed with a knife made in China. Cheap Chinese products have flooded the U.S. market, putting the squeeze on American workers, the argument goes.

Adding this arch-hawk to Trump's brain trust all but solidifies the antagonistic trajectory of the two countries' trade policies. The U.S. trade deficit with China hit a record $367.4 billion in 2015 -- more than quadruple the scale back in 2000, the year before China joined the WTO.

Trump seeks to reshuffle responsibilities within relevant agencies. The NTC would direct trade policy, while the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce would hash out trade agreements. The USTR would address trade imbalances with countries including China. There are also plans to transfer administration of free trade agreements from the USTR to the Commerce Department, which promotes exports of American goods.

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton formed the National Economic Council overseeing all aspects of economic policy. Reviving the post-Cold War economy was one of the biggest challenges at the time. Trump plans to keep the NEC but is also forming the NTC and positioning the trade deficit with China as a top priority.

Beijing has responded to Trump's pick of Navarro with an appeal to collaboration. "Cooperation is the only right choice for the two sides," said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a news conference Thursday. "We hope that the American side will join us in maintaining the sound and steady growth" in economy and trade, Hua continued.

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