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Resetting US-China Trade Relations

Former US President Donald Trump’s bombastic, go-it-alone strategy toward China, particularly on trade, was fundamentally flawed. Because an open multilateral trading system benefits the entire global economy, the Biden administration’s surest route to lessening bilateral tensions runs through the World Trade Organization.

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Joe Biden’s administration is reassessing America’s China strategy. Donald Trump’s modus operandi was to bully China on trade, foreign investment, cyberspace, e-commerce, intellectual property, the South China Sea, Taiwan, and other issues. Making matters worse, the Trump administration chose to deal with China bilaterally, neglecting European, Australasian, and Latin American allies who shared many of America’s concerns and would have strengthened the United States’ bargaining position.

Trump’s bombastic, go-it-alone approach was fundamentally flawed. He seems to have assumed that his policies would harm China to the point that it could not effectively compete with the US economically, politically, or militarily. But no American actions can stop Chinese growth. Moreover, at the same time that his administration was trying to diminish China, it was negotiating with it bilaterally, thereby sending a very confusing signal to the Chinese and the rest of the world. Trumpian policies no doubt damaged China, but they hurt the US, too.

Although Sino-American rivalry is inevitable, both governments know that war is unthinkable. Given China’s desire to be a respected member of the international community, a more satisfactory US approach would involve seeking cooperation and mutual gain when possible and limiting confrontation to vital issues.