US trade hawk hunts bigger fish in Trump’s China battles

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Before joining Donald Trump’s administration, one of Nazak Nikakhtar’s main jobs was to represent US catfish farmers seeking punitive duties against Vietnamese importers.

The 45-year-old Iranian-born trade lawyer and economist has since moved from the relatively small pool of the transpacific seafood business to the rougher waters of the US president’s trade war with China — a little-known hardliner playing a big role in implementing the administration’s combustible international economic agenda.

Ms Nikakhtar is the acting head of the commerce department’s bureau of industry and security — and awaiting confirmation to be its permanent chief — at a time when the unit is in the spotlight because of Mr Trump’s moves to expand export controls in the stand-off with Beijing.

This month, Mr Trump placed Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications network company, on a special export blacklist preventing American companies from selling to it without a licence, with more Chinese technology companies expected to suffer a similar fate.

Although the decision was made by the US president, Ms Nikakhtar is overseeing the crackdown. People familiar with her views say she has not shied away from warning American businesses of the danger of extensive economic relationships with China. And they say she is more in favour of disentangling the two economies rather than fostering closer ties.

“There’s no question she’s hawkish. She believes that far too much of the supply chain has moved to China and that whether pursuing self-interest or not, companies have prioritised the short term over the national interest,” said one person familiar with her views.

To some, this approach has placed Ms Nikakhtar squarely in the camp of Peter Navarro, the White House manufacturing policy chief and author of a book called Death by China. Others say that her lawyerly expertise aligns her … Read More...