Trump Asserts He Can Force U.S. Companies to Leave China – The New York Times

Presidents invoked the law when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, when Serbia sent troops into Kosovo in 1998 and when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Among the countries targeted have been international outliers like North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Congo and Venezuela.

Using it in a trade dispute with a country like China would be a drastic departure. But Mr. Trump could make the argument that China constitutes a national security threat through the theft of intellectual property or its military buildup in the South China Sea.

The Trump administration previewed this view of Beijing in its national security strategy in 2017, which described China as a “revisionist power” that has “expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others.”

John E. Smith, a partner at the international law firm Morrison & Foerster, said it had never been used for pure economic warfare without a national security nexus and could be challenged in court or by Congress.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I have not seen anything where there was not a national security threat,” said Mr. Smith, who until last year was director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the emergency powers law. “This is a completely different use of a well-utilized tool in going after what appears to be a purely economic dispute.”

But even if an unprecedented stretch of the law, some international trade lawyers said it was written broadly enough that Mr. Trump could prevail.

“The statute gives the president the right to do just about anything if he or she first declares that here’s a national security threat to the United States,” said Judith Alison Lee, a lawyer at Gibson Dunn in Washington. “It would be hugely disruptive but, technically speaking, I think the statute gives him that authority.”

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