The White House may inadvertently be repeating history by restricting the amount of advanced semiconductors the U.S. exports to China — and if it’s not careful, could repeat the escalations that led to Pearl Harbor. That’s the warning from legendary investor Ray Dalio, who has long advocated for a positive relationship between China and America.
Dalio, who founded Bridgewater Associates in 1975, told an audience at the Greenwich Economic Forum that the U.S. finds itself in a “much similar situation” with China, as it did with Japan during World War Two.
In 1940 the U.S. halted exports to Japan, froze Japanese assets held in U.S. banks and stopped any negotiations with Japanese diplomats, as tensions between the two sides heightened.
Japan, facing down serious shortages and with seemingly no way to negotiate with the U.S., launched an attack on Pearl Harbor in December a year later.
And Dalio fears that measures recently announced by the Commerce Department, which will curb shipments of AI chips and chipmaking tools to China as early as October, could heighten tensions in the way a similar move did in the 1940s.
“The reason in World War Two—war with Japan—you had the cutting off of the oil and then sanctioning them, taking their payments,” Dalio said in a conversation with Bloomberg TV’s David Westin. “So you have a somewhat similar situation. Chips is like oil back then, and it’s a very, very, very delicate issue.”
The chip embargo—which U.S. officials say is one to stabilize the relationship between the nations—is one of a series of factors adding fuel to the fire, Dalio added.
‘On the brink of red lines’
The self-proclaimed Sinophile said the two major world powers are inching towards the point of no return on a number of issues.
“These irreconcilable differences, they’re right on the brink,” Dalio said.
Dalio—whose book “Principles: Life and Work” was a bestseller in China after it debuted in a translated version—said the “Taiwan issue” was high on this list of tensions.
Taiwan has been governed independently of China since the 1940s, however officials in Bejing still see the island as part of its territory.
For its part, the U.S. has a longstanding ‘One China’ policy, which is the diplomatic acknowledgment of China’s position that there is a single Chinese government.
The U.S. Department of State said in a statement last year: “We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side; we do not support Taiwan independence; and we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.”
As such, Dalio explained that any diversion from that long-held agreement could prove devastating: “The breaking point is if the United States said ‘we are in favor of the independence of Taiwan.’ That’s the equivalent of a declaration of war.
“And because of our political issues now, internally, you are going to be likely to push that—because of the fact that many in the Congress and so on would say ‘we’ll defend Taiwan.’”
Nobody wants a war
Thankfully for the global population, Dalio is also convinced that neither the U.S. nor China wants to enter into a conflict.
“Neither country wants to go to war,” the man reportedly worth $16.5. billion continued. “Everybody’s afraid of what that war would be like because it would be devastating economically and politically.”
High-profile individuals like Janet Yellen are also doing their part to try and solidify the U.S.-China relationship.
Following a trip to Beijing this summer, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury admitted that no single visit would “solve our challenges overnight.”
However, she added decoupling from China would be “disastrous for both countries and destabilizing for the world,” continuing any separation would be “virtually impossible to undertake.”