The first point to make is that the current hysteria about a trade war with China is parallel to what happened a few months ago with North Korea. Then we had weeks of unhinged bluster that kept the press busy around the clock. Finally it dissipated without a trace when Trump gave in to Kim’s request for a meeting—ignoring all of his and other Presidents’ demands for preconditions.
Trump had his weeks of media-certified toughness and was on to the next photo op.
(It’s not clear what will come out of the meeting, but if the South Korean trade deal is any model—it takes very little to put on a media show of triumph. Also, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if the two Koreas got together and decided to keep the nukes. After all, Trump campaigned on a platform of forcing allies to take full responsibility for their own defense!)
A trade war with China is a God-given opportunity. The Chinese have already announced as yet unspecified trade openings for the West. So the punch line is already there—all that’s necessary is the prelude. We’re currently getting our full-scale dose of Trump toughness on trade. Every time the stock market goes up or down it’s just that much more publicity. And the conclusion will be a triumphant proof of Trump’s populism for the mid-term elections. But since Trump needs a deal, that means—as with Kim—that the Chinese are running the show.
As we’ve noted here before, this is a critical time for negotiation with China. The West needs to be united in setting the stage for what could be a major period of international growth. By definition this needs to be done within the framework of the WTO. Instead of that, however, we have Trump claiming a “national security” exemption for every act of his trade war—thereby undermining the whole notion of WTO-based standards for trade.
There’s just nothing that won’t be sacrificed to a photo op.