The objective of a negotiator is not to achieve a “win-win” solution with their counterparty, they taught us in business school. The objective is just to win. If that means a win-win, then that’s great, but a win-win should never be a negotiator’s No. 1 priority.
No one ever needed to teach this to Donald Trump.
Trump is a battle-hardened negotiator who conquered New York City, the toughest media and real estate market in the world. But his critics are so focused on his short-comings, they’re incapable of seeing his strengths. They’re so intent on attacking his short-term tactics, they can’t comprehend he might have a long-term strategy.
A master of the aggressive style of negotiation, Trump is so comfortable playing the role of a bully, that he was the villain of his own reality show. It’s understandable how that style can be aggravating to Trump’s domestic political opponents, but it’s essential for foreign policy: after eight years of flaccid pandering to the world’s autocrats, America needs someone to put the bully back in bully-pulpit.
Nowhere is this truer than China.
For years, Washington’s policy was to treat China like an honorable partner in the hopes it would become one. This did not work.
No one has ever denied Beijing’s bad behavior in international trade. By artificially devaluing their currency, despite years of double-digit growth, the Chinese became the factory for the world. Beijing got the world hooked on its exports, thanks to cheap currency and even cheaper labor. (There’s no Chinese Bernie Sanders pushing for a $15 minimum wage.)
For our years of giving China the benefit of the doubt, we were thanked with very little benefit and a lot of doubt.
Congress threatened tariffs back in 2005 to get China to stop manipulating its currency, but it wasn’t enough. Trump knew we had to escalate, so he defied conservative orthodoxy on trade and started a trade war with the world’s second largest economy. Even in criticizing Trump for not first creating an international coalition to confront China, SS Economics' Sung Won Sohn said his Administration is pursuing a legitimate goal of getting China to stop violating international trade rules.
But trade violations are just the tip of China’s iceberg.
China is not run by nice guys. Among its many sins, China has provoked our allies in the South China Sea, stolen our technological and personnel secrets, and siphoned off millions of U.S. jobs over the past 15 years. Beijing has imprisoned (and even killed) American informants, stomped on human rights, used its leverage to prolong the North Korea nuclear crisis, and actively funded propaganda cells on U.S. college campuses.
Xi has even forced Chinese Christians to replace their pictures of Jesus with pictures of himself.
Xi Jinping’s regime is at best a rival and at worst an adversary — if the Chinese become too powerful, they will represent an existential threat to the United States’ world leadership, to say nothing of the threat to weaker Asian nations. And because Chinese politicians are unburdened by free press, free speech, elections, term limits, and competing branches of government, the only force that can check Xi is an external power.
Even leftist Vox had to sum things up with: "But instead of working to fix at least some elements of strained US-China relations while putting up with the bulk of China’s misbehavior, Trump has chosen to completely reshape the relationship and go after Beijing on all of it."
One claim made that Trump’s trade war will fail is the scale of the trade deficit. Since we buy more from China than China buys from us ($335.4 billion in 2017), Trump’s policy does more harm than good to U.S. businesses and consumers. This notion, though, relies on a false interpretation of the trade “deficit.”
See, the reason we buy more from China than the reverse is because America’s large middle-class can afford China’s cheap exports. In per-capita GDP, the U.S. ranks a respectable #19 while China is a dismal #108. China’s mostly poor consumers are incapable of buying much of what the United States exports — the Chinese economy cannot bear the burden of tariffs the way America’s can.
Since the explosion of the Trump economy — with new records set every week for the stock market, unemployment, and growth — America’s capacity to weather a trade war is even stronger than it was last year. Moreover, businesses whose supply chain includes China are now racing to find non-Chinese suppliers to avoid the tariffs. That means enriching better-behaving countries, or bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, unless the Chinese Tiger changes its stripes.
Conservatives shouldn’t abandon their free-trade principles, but they should give the president time to employ a strategy that can be win-win.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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