Trump didn’t start this trade war. China did

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY MARC A. THIESSEN Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

Be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced that he was im­pos­ing 25% tar­iffs on hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of Chi­nese goods, he got en­cour­age­ment from an un­likely source: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The Se­nate Demo­cratic leader, who has lit­tle good to say about Trump most days, tweeted, “Hang tough on China, @re­al­don­aldtrump. Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”

That should have been a wake-up call for Bei­jing. When Chuck Schumer is tweet­ing sup­port for Don­ald Trump, it’s time to cut a deal.

But China didn’t cut a deal – and now it is pay­ing a price. Those who sug­gest Trump started this trade war with China have it back­ward. Bei­jing has been wag­ing eco­nomic war­fare on the United States for years – steal­ing our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, forc­ing our com­pa­nies to trans­fer tech­nol­ogy as a price of do­ing busi­ness in China and sub­si­diz­ing state-owned en­ter­prises to pre­vent U.S. busi­nesses from com­pet­ing in dozens of sec­tors of the Chi­nese econ­omy. The dif­fer­ence now is Chi­nese lead­ers are fac­ing a pres­i­dent who is will­ing to fight back.

China ap­par­ently didn’t think Trump would do so. The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ports that Chi­nese ne­go­tia­tors be­lieved they had lever­age be­cause Trump “was wor­ried about the fu­ture course of the U.S. econ­omy and there­fore may be more ea­ger to do a deal.” Big mis­take. The U.S. econ­omy is strong, un­em­ploy­ment is at the low­est level in five decades, and wages are ris­ing.

China’s econ­omy, by con­trast, is in trou­ble. Last year, China re­ported its slow­est eco­nomic growth since 1990, and the Fi­nan­cial Times re­ports that many ex­perts “be­lieve its of­fi­cial data un­der­states the true ex­tent of the slow­down.” While the United States has added about half a mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs since Trump took of­fice, China’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor is shed­ding jobs. And the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion is aging rapidly as birthrates are fall­ing, which means the work­force is be­com­ing smaller and less pro­duc­tive.

Trump is wrong when he says tar­iffs are good for our econ­omy be­cause China is pay­ing us “hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars” in tar­iff rev­enue – money he can use to help farm­ers with­stand the blow of lost sales to Bei­jing. China is not pay­ing the cost of tar­iffs. Amer­i­can busi­nesses and con­sumers are pay­ing. But the fact that Trump mis­tak­enly be­lieves tar­iffs are good for the econ­omy should be a wake-up call for Bei­jing. He thinks he’s in a win-win sit­u­a­tion, and that means, in this game of chicken, Trump is not go­ing to blink.

That does not mean China will buckle eas­ily. State own­er­ship is the means by which the Com­mu­nist Party di­rects the Chi­nese econ­omy. Get­ting China to stop sub­si­diz­ing large sec­tors of its econ­omy, and to cease its theft of U.S. in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. But Trump knows he has no chance of do­ing so by fil­ing com­plaints with the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. He is right to take a hard-line stance.

It’s much eas­ier to ques­tion the wis­dom of launch­ing trade wars with al­lies such as Canada and the Euro­pean Union. But we should all be able to agree that China is an eco­nomic preda­tor against which we need to fight back. Trump is us­ing tar­iffs to force China to open its mar­kets to free trade and com­pe­ti­tion. Ev­ery Amer­i­can should be stand­ing be­hind the pres­i­dent as he does so – just like Chuck Schumer.

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