Picture: 123RF/Dilok Klaisataporn
Picture: 123RF/Dilok Klaisataporn

Local punters have been able to sample just what Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged trade war with China will taste like.

The general consensus is likely to be "unpleasant".

Citing privacy concerns, Trump took aim at TikTok first, issuing what South Africans of a certain age would remember as a banning order which tried to do what it said on the box: silence it. An impossible task, really, like shovelling out the Augean stables, because for every TikTok that gets banned, there are another dozen waiting to rise up and claim our ever-shrinking ability to think.

That Trump and his advisers would regard the ludicrous video content on TikTok as the sluiceway to a Three Gorges Dam-worth of Chinese propaganda designed to take over America’s minds says a lot about the current state of America’s First Mind than it does about videos of people feeding chewy toffees to their dogs. (I made that up: I haven’t actually seen that on TikTok, but what’s the bet somebody has?)

The move that has surely come home to roost, however, is the president’s subsequent ban on WeChat. Banning WeChat, a platform on which millions of people make payments and, well, chat, is a biggie.

Tencent shares plunged 10% on Friday on the news, closing 5% down on the day. This pummelled JSE-listed Naspers, which owns a 31% stake in Tencent via Prosus, shedding 4% to finish the day at R3,088.39

If this is the White House’s way of trying to force a better trade deal ahead of November’s election, it has certainly gotten people’s attention, as they don’t say in Maude Street.

It’s a very dangerous game too. China might, as one Bloomberg commentator suggests, find itself increasingly isolated if more bans follow. Not that such time will be wasted: during one such period of isolation from the rest of the world, the Chinese invented gunpowder.

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