Trump’s tough stand on China trade will benefit America and the world

For a full generation now, Americans have engaged in the annual pastime of bemoaning the number of gifts under the Christmas tree made in China, our greatest foreign trade adversary.

Did Santa relocate to Beijing and fail to let us know?

The overabundance of products we import from China – many using American technology – over the past several decades has led to factory closures that have wiped out the jobs of far too many hardworking Americans.

In fact, the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimates that Americans lost 3.4 million jobs between 2001 and 2015 due our trade deficit with China.

China’s aggressive rise should certainly be a matter of concern to every country seeking to preserve its sovereignty and ensure its economic survival.

Under President Trump, the United States has finally recognized the comprehensiveness of the challenge from China and is taking action on a number of fronts at the same time. The going is difficult, because China has such a head start – but at least we’re fighting now.

President Trump understands that China aspires to become a regional hegemon, and that it is accumulating vast wealth and power through illicit tactics: economic aggression, military coercion, and the corruption and subversion of the governing process in other countries.  

China’s carefully engineered export economy has fueled its ascent to prominence. For decades, Beijing has used protectionist economic policies and aggressive trade tactics to make its manufactured goods more competitive in foreign markets, growing China’s economy at the expense of its trade partners.

By strategically imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers on foreign goods, for instance, China has been able to shield its domestic producers from the economic uncertainties of direct competition.

Similarly, Beijing forces foreign firms to start joint ventures with Chinese companies and requires technology transfers as a condition of doing business in China – all in violation of its commitments and obligations under the international trade regime.

The resulting economic growth has allowed Beijing to increase military spending by double digits or high single digits for over 20 years in a row. That in turn supports China’s aggressive foreign policy – such as its action to build and militarize islands in the South China Sea, in violation of international law.

For decades, American presidents made sincere – if naïve – efforts to bring China into the international trading community on an equal footing with other nations.

President’s Clinton’s policy was one of friendly “engagement” with China.

President George W.  Bush worked to admit China to the World Trade Organization, thinking that membership in that organization would force the Chinese regime to liberalize its economic and domestic policy. Unfortunately, the World Trade Organization hasn’t changed China; instead, China has subverted the World Trade Organization.

President Obama, to his credit, attempted to counter China’s regional aggression with his “Pivot to Asia” policy. But that initiative proved to be a failure. Obama’s response to China’s illicit economic tactics was fitful and ineffective.

President Trump, by contrast, has initiated a vigorous campaign to compete with China on a number of fronts, and it’s having an impact.

According to a recent study from a network of European Union researchers, China is bearing the brunt of the costs from President Trump’s 25 percent tariff on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. U.S. companies and consumers are paying a little less than one-fifth of the total burden, while the Chinese economy absorbs the rest.

“Chinese firms pay approximately 75 percent of the tariff burden and the tariffs decrease Chinese exports of affected goods to the United States by around 37 percent,” the researchers explain. “This implies that the bilateral trade deficit between the US and China drops by 17 percent.”

That is language Beijing understands. China is finally being forced to confront an American president who is willing to use all the tools of national influence to impose costs for Chinese aggression.

This is one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments. In just two years, he has fully engaged the United States in the national competition with America’s economically strongest adversary. He’s even quietly assembled bipartisan support for the effort.

It’s important that Americans not overreact to the challenges of dealing with China. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that Wall Street has an exaggerated view of the potential impact of the new tariff policy on the U.S. economy.

After all, we sell only $130 billion in goods to China annually. That’s about one-half of 1 percent of our $21 trillion economy – close to a rounding error.

Even adding in the $506 billion in goods we import from China, our current total two-way trade with that nation equals only about 2.5 percent of our gross domestic product.

This helps explain why our economy is experiencing very healthy growth while China’s is beginning to decline. Frankly, the investors and analysts on Wall Street need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The great threat to free trade comes from Beijing – not Washington. China is actively attempting to subvert the international economy.

President Trump needs the support of the business community, including the investment sector, in his efforts to stop the Chinese.

This competition could last for a long time, but Americans should be confident of success. In the economic domain, the United States is stronger than China.

We’re fortunate that President Trump has galvanized American efforts to protect our own economy and the interest of the whole world in a free and fair trading system.

As a result of our president’s trade policies, we can look forward to a lot fewer Chinese-made gifts under the tree in the years ahead, and a lot more gifts that are made in America by American workers.

Jim Talent represented Missouri in the U.S. House and Senate as a Republican. He is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The views he expresses here are his own.