Steve Bannon, former, White House Strategist
 

“Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!” This is how US President Donald Trump mocked his fired White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in a tweet on January 6, 2018.

It is hard to believe that this “dumped dog” was one of Trump’s “best pupils” during his election campaign. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, also Trump’s former campaign chief who spread Trump’s anti-immigrant and nationalist calls leading up to the US general election, has now made attacking China his new business after being dumped by Trump.

In 2019, Bannon intensified his assault on China with even more hysterical right-wing opinions.

Steve Bannon told the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, that the executive order signed by US President Donald Trump banning Huawei from the US market and cutting off vital components is “10 times more important than walking away from the trade deal.”

On May 6, he published an article in the Washington Post vilifying and inciting his country to confront China.

“Steve Bannon has now added a new project to his portfolio – one designed, like all Bannon projects, to harness the worst in a situation to make it even worse. Lately, he has been focusing on an adversary that troubles those on both the left and right: China. But Bannon’s aim is hardly to reduce tensions between the US and China; he means to ratchet up the trade war,” according to the American Prospect, an American political and public policy magazine.

The “China threat theory” has fermented rapidly in the Trump era, and this can be partly attributed to the profound influence Steve Bannon had on the US president. Although Bannon left the White House in 2017, there are no fundamental differences between Bannon and Trump in terms of governance philosophy and China policy, and he still has access to the White House to influence its China policy decisions, said Chinese experts.

Residual power

In May, Bannon claimed in his Washington Post article that the goal of the Communist Party of China is “to be the global hegemonic power,” and asserted China “has been waging economic war against industrial democracies.”

Bannon maliciously smeared China by saying that it is a “rapidly militarizing totalitarian state imprisoning millions in work camps,” and “the world is a house divided, half slave, half free.” Washington and Beijing are “facing off to tip the scales in one direction or the other,” he wrote.

Bannon focused his fire just at a time when pressure is growing on China-US relations. But how can Bannon stir up a new wave of anti-China rhetoric in Washington after being kicked out of the White House? It could be because his personnel deployment strategy in the White House is still working.

Bannon has had his fingerprints all over the address since he served as the White House Chief Strategist: he wrote Trump’s inaugural address, prompted Trump to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court, and was reportedly an important part of Trump’s controversial “Muslim ban.”

“A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning,” Trump said at one point. “A new national pride is sweeping across our nation.” That sort of rhetoric is right out of Bannon’s world and evidence of just how much influence Bannon has over Trump, said the Washington Post on March 1, 2017.

Bannon grabbed a place in the White House National Security Council in January 2017 when it was being reshuffled. The Council has had an unwritten rule for years: no standing seats for officials with strong political views. Bannon is not only politically radical but also has little experience in foreign and national security decision-making.

But this move made him more influential than most other cabinet officials. He used his power to promote to the White House a host of middle-ranking right-wing officials who shared his values.

Steve Bannon lost his National Security Council seat in April amid fears that the circle of US intelligence chiefs was being politicized.

Although Bannon has been personally sidelined by Trump, most of his followers remain in their posts, building on their radical ideas.

Kiron Skinner, the director of policy planning at the US Department of State, said in public earlier in May that the growing competition with China is “the first time we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian,” drawing criticism for her racial characterization of the conflict, according to South China Morning Post.

This showed that some officials like Skinner had largely embraced Bannon’s ultra-conservative right-wing views.

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump, phone, Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, Oval Office
Steve Bannon (right), watches as President Donald Trump (left) speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, in the Oval Office on January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo: Global Times Newspaper clip

Anti-China clique

After leaving the White House, Bannon is still actively expanding his media network, maintaining close contact with many hosts from Fox News, the main platform for American right-wing conservatives, as well as making frequent appearances for various far-right organizations.

A widely anticipated debate between Liu Xin of China Global Television Network (CGTN) and Trish Regan of the Fox Business Network in the US drew global attention in May. What many people don’t know is that Bannon was also behind this debate.

On May 22, Liu Xin strongly refuted Regan’s remarks on the US-initiated “economic war” against China in a short video commentary. The next day, Trish responded to Liu in her show, then invited Bannon to appear on it.

Bannon said that China’s personal attacks on him showed it was “in a state of hysteria.” Bannon stated that President Trump has fully understood that Beijing has been “running an economic war against the industrial democracies now for 20 years,” reported CNBC. Bannon goes to great lengths to describe how “jittery” China is.

After this show, Regan offered to have a debate with Liu Xin.

In addition to keeping a close eye on China issues in Fox News, Bannon is personally close to a number of hosts, regularly meeting with them, relentlessly promoting the “China threat” and using the media megaphone to get his voice heard.

Bannon has also worked with other hawks to create an Anti-China clique. The latest example came in March, when Bannon colluded with other Washington policy advisers to establish the Committee on the Present Danger, which targets China.

It aims to facilitate “public education and advocacy against the full array of conventional and non-conventional dangers” posed by China, according to an announcement the group released. The committee is widely believed to be fueling bilateral tensions between the two countries.

Fading away

Many political analysts believe that Bannon was valued by Trump not because of how competent he is, but because he and Trump have many things in common: they are eloquent, part of the elite, and hold similar ideas in trade, immigration and public security.

More importantly, Bannon took advantage of the moment when both parties were looking to adjust their strategy toward China, creating an infectious anti-China atmosphere and blaming China for many problems in American society.

But now Bannon’s influence on Trump is arguably minimal. After Trump won the 2016 election, Bannon compared himself with Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious adviser to King Henry VIII in the 16th century, triumphantly hinting at his powerful influence over Trump.

This metaphor is ironically accurate. The “Cromwell” who once advised the “King” did not escape the fate of being eventually discarded by his master.

(In Association with Global Times)