President Trump is a gumball machine of numbers when it comes to China. But his numbers are unchewable.
Whether the topic is Chinese job losses, foreign investment or trade, Trump has a habit of misleading audiences on the state of Asia’s largest economy. He also routinely exaggerates the effect of U.S. tariffs on China’s economy.
We rounded up some of the statistics Trump dishes out at campaign rallies, on Twitter and to reporters. The claims we’re fact-checking are all drawn from the president’s remarks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday. But he has been repeating the same or similar figures for months. This is a roundup, so we won’t be awarding Pinocchios — but his claims are certainly misleading.
“China wants to talk. They want to talk. China’s lost 3 million jobs.”
It’s a mystery where Trump gets this number, which seems to grow or shrink with each telling.
At the end of July, Trump tweeted, “China has lost 5 million jobs and two million manufacturing jobs due to the Trump Tariffs.” In August, he said, “China has lost 2 million jobs in the last month and a half.” Later that month, the number was “2½ million.” Now it’s 3 million.
As the BBC reported, “there is no official Chinese data specifically on job losses as a result of the US-China trade war, but economic surveys carried out by two Chinese banks suggest a range of 1.2 [million] to 1.9 million jobs were impacted by the trade war in the industrial sector.”
This article quoted a report from a Chinese investment bank, China International Capital Corp (CICC), with an estimate of trade war-related job losses in the manufacturing sector of up to 1.9 million between July 2018 and May 2019.
When pressed further, Mr Trump's spokesperson said the CICC survey had not included data after May, when there had been a significant increase in tariffs on goods from China.
However, no explanation was offered as to where the figure of three million — or the 2.5 million a week earlier — had been sourced.
When we asked Trump’s campaign about the 3 million figure, a spokesman sent the same article in the South China Morning Post and its estimate of almost 2 million job losses stemming from the trade war.
“I know of no reliable evidence that indicates that China has lost 3 million jobs because of the trade war,” Robert Daly, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, wrote in an email. “China had embarked on a historic restructuring of its economy before the trade war began. Before Trump’s election, Beijing had committed to slower, more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption, stronger service industries, and moving up the manufacturing value chain from assembly work to high tech. A reduction in the manufacturing labor force (let’s say it is 3 million jobs) must therefore be measured against job growth in China’s tech and service sectors.”
Nicholas R. Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says Trump’s claim of millions of Chinese job losses is “delusional.”
“Employment in broad manufacturing has been falling over the past year, but at a slower pace than in 2014-17, before the tariffs were imposed,” Lardy wrote in a blog post Aug. 29. “China’s exports to the rest of the world are growing enough to more than offset the lost sales to the United States, so employment losses due directly to the trade war seem to be de minimis.”
Derek Scissors, an expert on the Chinese economy at the American Enterprise Institute, said “300,000 jobs, not 3 million, could be a reasonable estimate for the U.S. tariff effect.”
“Chinese exports to the U.S. have begun falling,” Scissors said. “Through July, they’ve done about $25 billion [less] — goods and services — compared to 2018 through July. That is a concrete loss to China. It’s also a reversal of trend, so Chinese losses are larger as compared to what their exports could be without tariffs. But there is no way to get millions of jobs lost — the export decline is far too small for that given the size of China’s economy.”
David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the Chinese economy and served as an Obama administration economic official based in Beijing, said: “China’s overall exports so far this year are flat compared to 2018, so it seems unlikely that there are large employment changes.”
“Thousands of companies are leaving China. The supply chain is crumbling because they can’t pay the tariffs, and our country has taken over things that you would have never thought.”
Trump claims “thousands of companies” have been leaving China since his tariffs took effect, but neither his administration nor his campaign has offered proof.
The Trump campaign spokesman pointed to a July 14 article in the Wall Street Journal, which said the U.S. manufacturers behind “Crocs shoes, Yeti beer coolers, Roomba vacuums and GoPro cameras are producing goods in other countries to avoid U.S. tariffs of as much as 25% on some $250 billion of imports from China,” among others.
But China has more than half a million foreign-invested firms, according to the Peterson Institute. Multinational companies with Chinese operations in some cases say they’re leaving, or planning to leave, because of rising labor costs or lower costs in neighboring countries such as Vietnam. Those dynamics predated Trump’s tariffs.
Lardy, the Peterson Institute expert, wrote in a blog post Sept. 10 that “a handful of firms leaving China do not confirm a broad trend.” Many foreign companies are in China to access the sizable Chinese market, Lardy wrote, while some of the biggest exporters with Chinese operations, such as Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, a key supplier to Apple, are too entrenched in China to be able to relocate easily.
“Nonfinancial foreign direct investment (FDI) in China is currently running at an annual rate of almost $140 billion, meaning that thousands of new foreign firms are established in China every month,” Lardy wrote. “Since the tariff war broke out in mid-2018 FDI has expanded about 3 percent annually, roughly the same pace as in the previous five years. And the recent data do not reflect massive new investments in chemical plants. China recently approved wholly foreign-owned investments by both ExxonMobil and BASF, each at a record setting $10 billion. Since ground has not yet been broken, these two projects are not yet included in FDI data.”
A survey published in August by the U.S.-China Business Council found that 81 percent of members’ businesses had been affected by the trade tensions, up from 73 percent a year earlier.
But the same survey showed that 87 percent of members had no plans to leave China, while 95 percent said they were in the country to serve the Chinese market. “If you are there to serve the Chinese market, then the trade war provides more, not less, incentive to invest there,” said Dollar, the Brookings Institution researcher.
AEI’s Scissors said: “Tariffs are applied much more quickly than companies decide to exit a large market, so we don’t have useful data on this yet. We know thousands of companies are considering leaving China. It’s also possible that thousands of companies have left, as small East Asian companies may be relocating within the region.”
“Hundreds of billions of dollars have been and are coming into our country in the form of tariffs, and China’s eating the cost, which the fake news doesn’t want to tell you.”
Trump has imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports, and the Chinese have retaliated with their own levies on U.S. goods.
In the last year, U.S. tariffs on imports worldwide produced $63 billion, nearly half of which, or $27 billion, came from Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports and other products. (It’s important to note that China has retaliated in part by shunning U.S. agricultural products such as soybeans. Trump said at his North Carolina rally that his administration, as a result, has subsidized U.S. farmers to the tune of $28 billion. “We’ve given them $28 billion so that they’re whole,” he said.)
Economists widely agree that the cost of tariffs ultimately falls on manufacturers and consumers, as Trump recently acknowledged.
An analysis in May by Goldman Sachs found that “the costs of U.S. tariffs have fallen entirely on U.S. businesses and households, with no clear reduction in the prices charged by Chinese exporters” and that prices for nine categories of taxed goods — such as auto parts, furniture and floor coverings — were rising faster than inflation.
A paper published on March 2 by three prominent U.S. economists found “that the full incidence of the tariff falls on domestic consumers, with a reduction in U.S. real income of $1.4 billion per month by the end of 2018.” Another paper, published March 3 by a different set of economists, found similar results. “Tradable-sector workers in heavily Republican counties are the most negatively affected by the trade war,” the paper said.
“I want China to do well, and I hope they do well, but they’ve had now the worst year in 57 years.”
China’s second-quarter growth rate was the slowest in 27 years — not 57, as Trump repeatedly claims.
As The Post’s Anna Fifield reported in July: “Official figures from the National Bureau of Statistics — which economists tend to take with a grain of salt, viewing them as likely too rosy — showed that the annual growth rate slowed to 6.2 percent in the three months to the end of June, down from 6.4 percent the previous quarter.
“This is within the 6 to 6.5 percent band the government has set for this year and was in line with market expectations of a gradual slowdown. Still, it is China’s lowest growth rate since records began in March 1992.”
To jolt the slowing economy, the Chinese central bank said last week it is lowering the reserve requirement ratio for lenders by 0.5 percentage point on Monday, which essentially translates to injecting $126 billion into the country’s financial system, according to the New York Times.
“Many businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to stay open, unemployment is creeping up, and families are shouldering higher daily costs,” the Times reported.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter
The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles