Ed­i­to­ri­als: Crack­ing China’s great wall

Pres­i­dent Xi talks of re­duc­ing trade re­stric­tions and ex­pand­ing im­ports

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Amer­i­cans up to their el­bows in elec­tion al­li­ga­tors might have missed it: The great wall of Chi­nese trade just cracked. While vot­ers were busy re­cal­i­brat­ing the bal­ance of power in Pres­i­dent Trump’s Wash­ing­ton, China pledged to make its mar­kets more ac­ces­si­ble to in­ter­na­tional busi­ness. Promises made are not al­ways promises kept, but this may sig­nal that the pres­i­dent’s hard-nosed method of deal­ing with the most stub­born of global com­peti­tors is pay­ing off. If day­light seeps through China’s for­mi­da­ble trade bar­ri­ers, it would be good news for Amer­i­cans and, ul­ti­mately, the global econ­omy.

In a speech at the China In­ter­na­tional Im­port Expo in Shang­hai on Mon­day, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping promised to cut its tar­iffs on im­ported prod­ucts and stream­line its cus­toms pro­ce­dures. “China has a big mar­ket of over $1.3 bil­lion peo­ple and it is our sin­cere com­mit­ment to open the Chi­nese mar­ket,” Mr. Xi pledged be­fore an au­di­ence of for­eign lead­ers and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives. The leader of the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion said China would pur­chase $30 tril­lion in for­eign prod­ucts dur­ing the next 15 years. In any lan­guage, that’s a lot of money.

Amer­i­can lead­ers have long treated China’s for­eign trade ad­van­tage over the United States like the weather — some­thing to com­plain about with­out try­ing to do any­thing about it. But the blunt-spo­ken New Yorker, ac­knowl­edg­ing the $350 bil­lion-plus an­nual im­bal­ance, also ob­served that the Chi­nese have made a killing with tar­iff and cur­rency poli­cies that re­quire U.S. com­pa­nies to hand over their trade se­crets and even fac­to­ries as the cost of do­ing busi­ness with China.

Not hes­i­tat­ing to re­in­force blus­ter with brick­bats, Pres­i­dent Trump has im­posed tar­iffs rang­ing from 10 per­cent to 25 per­cent on $250 bil­lion worth of Chi­nese im­ports, and vows to do the same in 2019 on an­other $267 bil­lion un­less Bei­jing plays fair. Mex­ico, Canada and the Euro­pean Union can ex­pect sim­i­lar treat­ment. The neigh­bors to the north and south have reached some ac­com­mo­da­tion with the United States, and the Euro­pean Union is mov­ing closer to do­ing so.

China alone has re­buffed the pres­i­dent’s re­lent­less as­sault on un­fair trade prac­tices, call­ing it the “largest trade war in eco­nomic his­tory.” Bei­jing has re­tal­i­ated with new tar­iffs of its own worth $110 bil­lion. Mean­while, the 2018 U.S.-China trade im­bal­ance con­tin­ues apace, on track to sur­pass last year’s record of $375.6 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

Main­tain­ing cor­dial­ity is a fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment of sav­ing face in the East. Mr. Xi presents a friendly de­meanor to­ward Mr. Trump, even play­ing a round of golf with him, while at the same time re­sist­ing any pres­sure to own up to the in­equitable trade prac­tices that have an­tag­o­nized his U.S. part­ner. For his part, the usu­ally tart-tongued Mr. Trump speaks of his Chi­nese coun­ter­part only in warm and dul­cet tones.

Ac­cord­ingly, there’s hope that an an­tic­i­pated meet­ing be­tween the two at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires later this month will im­prove the like­li­hood of a trade agree­ment. “I think we’ll make a deal with China,” says Mr. Trump.

Deco­rum is a valu­able as­set — even in the midst of a har­row­ing trade war — and nei­ther Mr. Trump nor Mr. Xi seem will­ing to de­scend to the sort of Is­lamic in­vec­tive that rou­tinely erupts from Iran. The be­lea­guered na­tion clearly demon­strates that build­ing up a nu­clear pro­gram while test­ing in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles and threat­en­ing to an­ni­hi­late neigh­bors is usu­ally not re­garded as a way to win friends and in­flu­ence peo­ple. And the habit of chant­ing “death to Amer­ica” may help while away the hours on the streets of Tehran, but the en­ter­tain­ment may not be worth the hard­ship re­sult­ing from eco­nomic sanc­tions newly reim­posed on the na­tion’s en­ergy, ship­ping and bank­ing sec­tors.

China’s 2 mil­lion-man army could never be mis­taken for a con­clave of Bud­dhist monks. The mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the South China Sea, with a rapidly ex­pand­ing blue-wa­ter navy and an am­bi­tious and grow­ing air force, is the work of a na­tion seek­ing to ex­ert global in­flu­ence com­men­su­rate with its eco­nomic mus­cle.

It’s the way of the world, and so is the wis­dom of ex­panded global trade. With the po­lit­i­cal die now cast in Wash­ing­ton, the lead­ers of the planet’s two most dom­i­nant economies have an op­por­tu­nity to erase their tar­iff schemes and come to terms on trade. Pros­per­ity will flour­ish if fair­ness pre­vails.

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