by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
With tariffs and tweets, President Trump eggs on a trade war between China and America. With no trade talks on the horizon, relations are unlikely to improve soon. That seems to be what Trump, a self-styled “fighter,” wants.
He is right to see China as a rival. He is also right that Washington needs to take action against China’s predatory policies. But the president is woefully wrong in the actions he is taking. Instead of developing a coherent strategy, targeting China’s misdeeds, and mitigating its threat, he’s provoking a broad trade war and simply irritating Beijing with his unfocused tariffs and whiny comments.
Most of Trump’s criticisms of China are justified. It clings to unfair trade practices, it abuses access to foreign technology, and it is doing awful things with the technology it has acquired, both by extortion and outright theft from other countries. But whining on Twitter is not the way to respond. And tariffs will end up hurting consumers and businesses in the U.S.
His goal shouldn’t be to make China poor or to stifle its development, but to push Beijing toward better behavior. The best way to do this is not with blunt tariffs but with targeted sanctions. Companies that misappropriate technology or illegally hand it over to the Chinese military should be prevented from getting their hands on it. The Department of Commerce, to its credit, has taken this approach with great success.