Peter Navarro is shown in this still image making introductory comments in the documentary “Death By China: How America Lost Its Manufacturing Base.” (DeathByChina / YouTube)

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s transition team added another member to the president-elect’s administration. The latest recruit is Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California at Irvine whose name had been floated as a prospect for a Trump White House during the campaign season. Now Navarro is preparing for his next role as head of the White House National Trade Council.

Don’t recognize the name of that official brain trust? That’s because it didn’t exist before Trump and his cohorts invented it. Here’s more about the council’s aims, as Business Insider condensed from the transition team’s statement:

In announcing the trade council, the release said its purpose will be to advise Trump on trade negotiations, coordinate with other agencies, and assist unemployed workers. It will also lead Trump’s “Buy America, Hire America” program, which is aimed at boosting jobs in infrastructure and defense sectors. The council will work with the National Security Council, National Economic Council, and the Domestic Policy Council, as well.

That sounds like boilerplate campaign-ese. So, to cut to the chase, why Navarro? As a number of sources pointed out after Wednesday’s announcement, the synergy between Trump and Navarro resonates strongest when it comes down to one very significant factor: China.

From this Orange County Register article we learn that the UCI economist “has written three books and directed two documentaries advocating an aggressive stance toward trade with China, a position shared by Trump.”

Actually, it’s not so much that Trump “shares” Navarro’s position; according to economics scholar Tyler Cowen, it’s more that Trump has purposefully taken several pages from Navarro’s work. Writing in Bloomberg last August, Cowen speculated that Navarro was “plausibly a leading candidate for a top job in a Trump administration” and described Navarro’s recent push on the China front:

Navarro has lately been in a China phase, with three books, numerous articles and the documentary, and that is the work that has resonated with the Trump campaign. But which Navarro shows up on this topic, the scholar or the salesman? Both.

I expected to hate his “Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World,” but instead I found it to be an intelligent discussion of the problems likely to result from a more assertive China. That said, Navarro does not come close to demonstrating his opening prediction that future war with China is “very likely.” In contrast, his “The Coming China Wars” is mostly a series of emotional diatribes against the Chinese government, opening with charges of cheating and slave labor and never much considering the positive side of Chinese economic growth.

His film is in this same polemical, neo-mercantilist vein. In an e-mail to me he writes: “The film features a priceless history of how Bill Clinton sold America down the Shanghai River.” Trump’s endorsement read: “DEATH BY CHINA is right on. This important documentary depicts our problem with China with facts, figures and insight. I urge you to see it.”

Navarro’s other writings on China have hovered between these extremes of tone, but in general he has been pushing the line that the U.S. should be tough on trade, crack down on intellectual property theft, tax Chinese exports, combat Chinese mercantilism, bring jobs home, and yes, make America great again. If you want to read one thinker to understand Trump on China, it is Navarro.

Also worth passing notice is that, as Cowen mentioned, Navarro ran for public office four times in the 1990s — as a Democrat.

An array of news outlets also zeroed in on the China connection in their coverage about Navarro and the newly minted White House National Trade Council. The Wall Street Journal characterized Trump’s favored economist as an “ardent skeptic of trade with China” whose “trade views run outside the economic mainstream and have been bitterly critical of U.S. policy with China.” Several sources, including CNBC, Reuters and the Financial Times were economical in their shared description of Navarro as a “China hawk.”

The Hill’s Sylvan Lane and Cowen in Bloomberg observed that the Navarro-Trump power coupling looks more like a two-person mutual admiration society than an expert-to-protégé mini-hierarchy. In fact, Lane wrote Wednesday, “Navarro is one of the few economists who say 4 percent to 5 percent economic growth is feasible under Trump’s agenda, a claim both liberals and conservatives have laughed off.” Cowen pointed to Navarro’s enthusiastic paean to Trump, “The Trump Doctrine: Peace Through Strength,” published March 31 in The National Interest, in which Navarro laid the groundwork for his impending political career with tributes like this:

Those who insist Donald Trump has no foreign policy are simply not listening. The “Trump Doctrine” is a page right out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook: peace through economic and military strength.

Trump knows the key to keeping America safe in an increasingly dangerous world is to “make America great again” through economic renewal. America must have the fiscal firepower to end Pentagon’s budget sequestration in order to fund the military the U.S. needs for adequate defense. Cutting the corporate tax rate and cracking down on unfair trade practices to increase America’s GDP growth rate are just as demonstrative of national might as the F-35. …

In laying out his Trump Doctrine, Trump has assiduously avoided surrounding himself with a large circle of advisors. He has done so because he has “off the record” access to a broad distributed network of experts around the world—as well as an inner circle that stays out of the limelight. From his own detailed foreign policy research over many years—required due diligence to conduct business globally—Trump has developed a strong aversion to the kind of “nation building” that dragged America into wasted and protracted wars in God-forsaken killing fields like Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, Trump has promised the American people – he will not be shedding the blood of any American soldier either in vain or under the vanity banner of American Exceptionalism. This is how Trump is in tune with the American public that is both tired of war and ready for the new era of prosperity that will usher in peace founded on true American power.

And if that didn’t clinch it, in August Navarro stumped for Trump before an audience that shares his own heritage, penning a hard sell of an essay titled “The overwhelming logic of Hispanics for Trump.” To wit:

Donald Trump brings an entirely different perspective and skill set to trade deals, job creation and immigration reform. It is a perspective that should be welcomed with open arms by an Hispanic and Latino community that seeks economic opportunity, is built on a culture of hard and honest labor and embraces family values.

Here, it must be said that Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate who has ever employed tens of thousands of Latinos in various enterprises around the world. He has treated his workers with respect, paid them fairly and promoted them freely irrespective of race, creed or color and solely on the basis of the good and hard work that they do.

This is a highly successful businessman who has pledged to put an end to “nation-building” and “regime change” wars and instead will focus on creating tens of millions of new jobs. The Obama-Clinton alternative is a “tax the rich” welfare state ham-stringing an economy that continues to vastly underperform.

On the hot button issue of illegal immigration, this, too, must be said: When Donald Trump tells the American people that he will “build that wall,” he means no offense to Hispanics. He is simply recognizing this inalterable truth.

Though that pitch ultimately may not have won over Hispanic voters in droves, Wednesday’s news suggests that Navarro may have had another specific reader in mind when he wrote those essays. Message received.

Watch the documentary “Death By China: How America Lost Its Manufacturing Base,” directed by Peter Navarro, in full below:

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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