The leverage this hands China is all too apparent in Trump’s attempt at a hard-line policy toward Huawei. The ban, originally announced in May, deals a devastating blow to the Chinese company by denying it access to key American technology and products. But it also hurts U.S. tech companies, including Intel, Qualcomm, and Google, which count Huawei as a major customer. Beijing knows this full well. Chinese officials summoned executives of foreign technology firms to warn them that they could face repercussions if they adhere to the Trump ban, likely an attempt to compel them to lobby against Washington’s policy. Then in late June, at the G20 summit in Japan, Trump emerged from a one-on-one with Chinese President Xi Jinping and blurted out that he had agreed to allow American companies to continue supplying goods to Huawei, at least appearing to soften his stance. Apparently, he was bowing to the concerns of U.S. business. “The companies were not exactly happy that they couldn’t sell,” he said. Beijing now expects Trump to hold to his statement as long-stalled trade talks resume in Shanghai this week.
Read: The age of ‘Chimerica’ is coming to an end
The Democrats, meanwhile, have been highly critical of Trump’s approach, though not always for the same reason. One moment, they’re bashing the tariffs he’s imposed on Chinese imports as bad for the U.S. economy; the next, they’re attacking him for being too soft—for instance, when he lifted restrictions on another Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, last year. It isn’t clear, though, if the Democrats have many better ideas.
Senator Kamala Harris, a leading presidential contender, joined her fellow Californian Dianne Feinstein in lambasting Trump’s trade strategy, deeming the administration’s use of tariffs “counterproductive to its goal of ensuring a level playing field for American companies” and fearing the impact on her state’s export sector. But so far, she hasn’t offered specific alternatives. The statement merely suggested that Trump “urgently convene negotiations with China.” On her campaign website, Harris adds that the United States should confront China in conjunction with allies, rather than unilaterally, and has proposed laws be updated to strengthen the government’s ability to go after foreign hackers stealing trade secrets.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has similarly vowed to “get tough” on China through a “united front” with allies. Senator Elizabeth Warren has come out in favor of both continued engagement with China, on issues of common interest like nuclear proliferation, and the use of tariffs to counter Chinese policies that hurt American workers. In an essay in Foreign Affairs outlining her policy, she argued that China has “weaponized its economy,” but her suggestions for dealing with that were somewhat vague. “We should encourage our allies to enhance their multilateral cooperation and build alternatives to China’s coercive diplomacy,” she wrote, adding that “we should also respond to China’s efforts to force foreign companies to hand over sensitive technology” and “penalize its theft of U.S. intellectual property.” Warren takes something of a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, advocating the U.S. government copy Chinese practices of crafting national plans to set economic priorities and more assertively promote and support industry and exports to help the U.S. compete.