Why the US Needs Allies in a Trade War Against China

China-US trade-war

On December 1, in Buenos Aires, President Trump started the 90-day clock to negotiate a trade deal with China. He claims he wants to tackle the big systemic concerns involving theft of American intellectual property, the forced transfer of technology from American firms, and the state-driven nature of the Chinese economy. For trade watchers, the time frame for such ambitions sounds absurd. But they are not entirely out of reach. If Trump makes up with scorned friends in order to take on a common adversary, he could get a meaningful deal.

Donald TrumpAdmittedly, Trump did spend the first two years of his presidency alienating traditional American allies as much as officials in Beijing. He reversed the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy moves by pulling out of the Paris Accord on climate, Iran sanctions deal, and Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. And his own protectionist actions on trade policy—tariffs imposed on steel, aluminum, and threatened on cars—mostly hit exports in economic allies like Europe, Japan, Canada, and South Korea. Because they weaken an otherwise concerning alliance, China’s view of many of those Trump policy actions is fairly positive.

But a change in approach is conceivable. In what would be a stunning policy plot twist of the Trump presidency, it is possible that American negotiators could join forces with their previously rebuffed counterparts in Europe and Japan to form a collective front, all pushing for Chinese reform. Although the White House has yet to signal anything like this, it’s worthwhile to consider how such a strategy might play out.

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