President Donald Trump declared a national emergency and banned equipment made by tech firms of “foreign adversaries” from operating in the United States. The Department of Commerce followed up, listing Huawei and dozens of other Chinese firms as risks to American national security, prohibiting them from selling or buying in the U.S. market. The actions were much broader and more bare-knuckle than even China hawks had expected.
Trump’s supporters are test marketing the argument that only he could or would get tough on China. Steve Cortes, writing in RealClearPolitics, compared Trump on China to Ronald Reagan on the Soviet Union—ahead of his time in confronting its malevolence. Greg Autry wrote in Foreign Policy, “Trump’s China policy is a triumph.” The Wall Street Journal reported that CEOs have been coming around to support tariffs as “American business’s best shot at addressing those long-standing grievances.” Even The New York Times acknowledged that Trump has overturned years of failed multilateral efforts to deal with China.
Is Trump “winning” China, in contrast to his predecessors?
Previous presidents did allow China to accede to the World Trade Organization in 1999 and to receive permanent normal trade-relations status with the United States in 2000, even though China was not in full compliance with the rules. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair orchestrated China’s entry into the liberal economic order—what they termed the “rules-based order”—in the belief that a China integrated into the global economy would succumb to political openness. Western policy makers have long assumed that as people grow more prosperous, they become more demanding political consumers. Regime change by prosperity, if you will. Subsequent administrations also believed that China would become a “responsible stakeholder” once it was a member of the global club.