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Reuters' June 9, 2023 With eye on China, US and five allies condemn trade-related 'economic coercion' begins:

WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) - The United States and five of its allies on Friday condemned the use of trade practices that amount to economic coercion in a joint declaration that did not single out other countries but appeared to be aimed at China.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand jointly released the statement with the United States, emphasizing that "trade-related economic coercion and non-market-oriented policies and practices" threatened the multi-lateral trading system and "harms relations between countries."

There is also mention of forced labor but my question is about the nature, definition of economic coercion and its differentiation from other forms of pressure through economic means.

Question: How does the US and five other countries define the "economic coercion" they condemn, and differentiate it from how they use economic means to pressure countries to do what they want?

Just for example, there are plenty of economic sanctions on Russia and China, and there will be major consequences for any other country that helps either Russia or China with their semiconductor industries. How does the US and its mentioned allies differentiate this and other means of imposing international pressure through economic means from "trade-related economic coercion and non-market-oriented policies and practices?

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    When I do it, I call it “economic incentives”, when my enemies do it, I call it “economic coercion”. See: terrorist vs freedom fighter, regime vs administration.
    – Justas
    Jun 11, 2023 at 14:28
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    From Blackadder Goes Forth: "German spies - "filth hun weasels, fighting their dirty underhand war" ... British spies "Splendid fellows, brave heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty"... The point being that you should not expect anything like a rational answer to this. bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00bf6vt/… (09:30)
    – James K
    Jun 11, 2023 at 19:27
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    @JamesK I certainly understand your point, but I have only asked how the US (and five others) define what they condemn and differentiate it from what they do. We certainly don't have to buy it, but they still may rationalize it somehow, and a quote of such a rationalization (faulty as it might be) would be an answer here.
    – uhoh
    Jun 11, 2023 at 21:49
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    Slightly less cynically (but only slightly): it's coercion when it pressures them to do bad stuff, and it's incentives when it pressures them to do good stuff. Of course, politicians also twist the meanings of "good" and "bad". Jun 12, 2023 at 16:22
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    @Justas Although terrorist vs. freedom fighters has been frequently used as an example of double standards (at least since GW Bush times), this is actually an example of doublespeak: terrorism refers to the methods of fighting (typically violating international humanitarian law), whereas freedom fighter designates the objective. One can be a freedom fighter and a terrorist in the same time (e.g., Palestinian terrorists), and one can fight for an ignoble goal while adhering to the laws of war (Nazis on the western front, at least initially.) Jun 13, 2023 at 12:40

1 Answer 1

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TLDR: They don't and they mostly don't have to.

Let's change subject for a second. Imagine, in a news conference, DeSantis being asked

"How does coercing Disney Corporation fit with Republicans' pro-business, pro-economy stance?"

DeSantis:

"You are right, I can't justify it and it doesn't. My office will call that off".

Do you really expect that to happen? No, it won't, you'll instead more likely get something like:

"Floridans are sick and tired of being indoctrinated by woke corporations. You there, next question?."

Let's break that down.

  • A politician will dodge the question or answer past it.

  • They will then move to a different question. You can't realistically expect some form of structured and controlled "But you didn't answer my question!" format. Not least because typically at a press conference there are many journalists asking questions and thus good reasons not to let one monopolize microphone time.

  • Depending on the country, the journalist asking too hard questions may get frozen out. IIRC that is what Trump tried to do at least one once with the White House conferences. Just because Trump was too clumsy about it doesn't mean it doesn't work when done more carefully, especially when it concerns foreign relations, rather than pressuring internal politics.

  • There are exceptions, circumstances where hard questions can be drilled to a politician on repeat. Congressional hearings, WTO hearings, presidential debates, etc... And it that case, dodge tactics are much harder to apply. But this isn't the context of your cited news conference. In most cases, the more "technical and formal" the Q&A format, the more limited the audience: "if can't be a soundbite, it ain't news".

  • To a large extent, a politician in these circumstances doesn't really have convince anyone: at most they need to avoid contradicting themselves and looking dishonest. The audience will be divided in three camps: sympathizers, opponents and undecideds. The first two won't change their beliefs and the third group probably won't and/or represents a limited risk, both in terms of actually being swayed and in their influence. *

  • In the 80s, the US long managed to limit Japanese car imports? Was it "fair" and free market? Ummm, not really, but that didn't stop it from happening. Most of the time, there are no hard penalties to stop countries from misbehaving, but there is of course no guarantee the targeted country won't push back with its own economic coercion.


Back to US+pals vs China, in this instance:

Lithuania got all sorts of economic pushback due to it supporting Taiwan. That was standard China reaction to criticism of its domestic/foreign policy. Could have been the same on Tibet. Or Uyghurs. Would it fly at a WTO hearing? Probably not. Keeping out Lithuanian beer has no real economic rationale.

The US and a number of countries have shut off Chinese access to EUV equipment. If that goes to WTO, that would probably cruise by due to national security exception clauses.

In matters of trade, in many cases it doesn't really matter who is right or who is wrong, it only really matters how much leverage each party has and what enforcement mechanisms exist to bring back the "wrong" side into line.

* Well, as the West is slowly realizing, it still has some way to go before its PR is fully convincing to non-aligned countries, even given such a black and white moral context as Russia's aggression against Ukraine. So, too much cynicism, as implied by my answer, can backfire. You can't just sail by when trying to influence the undecideds, you need to establish a real rapport with them.

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    With regard to the last paragraph, the West is slowly realizing that truth is mostly irrelevant in today's world. Russia vs Ukraine is very much black and white, truthfully, but that doesn't matter if Russia has the better propaganda engine. Jun 12, 2023 at 17:01
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    @user253751 You can certainly write up an answer on that basis, but I for one am not claiming propaganda is the answer. Quite the opposite. Instead, I am saying that "soft power" matters and ditching the JCPOA, withdrawal from Paris accords, lackluster assistance wrt climate change, NATO intervention in Libya, real or perceived racism etc... are all things that make it look like the West lacks sincerity. If the W wants to court the Global South in the coming decades to counteract China, it will have to up its game. Best to have learned that lesson from the much lesser challenge RU presents Jun 12, 2023 at 22:43
  • @user253751 Russia doesn't need any propaganda machine. If you are an american country south of the USA, or an african country, or even a south-asian country and you ever get invaded by a nuclear power... it's going to be a NATO member, and they know it. The soviet union helped all the african countries in their independence wars against their former european colonial masters. It also protested all the interventions of the USA in latin america - and there's not a single country in latin america they hadn't meddle with. Russia doesn't need propaganda; it has history.
    – Rekesoft
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:00
  • @Rekesoft and if you're a country in Europe you got invaded by a CSTO member, and you know it. The NATO helped all the European countries in their independence wars against their former Russian colonial masters... you see the analogy? Jun 13, 2023 at 10:01
  • @user253751 I see it. That's why european countries, especially in eastern Europe, are very pro-NATO, pro-Western. And why the rest of the world has not been swayed to join the anti-russian sanctions. It's not hard to understand, really.
    – Rekesoft
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:07

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