China’s predatory trade behavior is threatening sectors much more vital than steel and aluminum
“Beijing has doubled down on its state capitalist model even as it has gotten richer,” Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, who both served in foreign-policy roles under former President Barack Obama, write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. “Cooperative and voluntary mechanisms to pry open China’s economy have by and large failed.”
.. But Mr. Trump has consistently rejected collective action in favor of going it alone. His officials downgraded multilateral efforts to reduce steel overcapacity. In January 2017, Mr. Obama’s administration launched a case at the WTO against China for subsidizing aluminum, but Mr. Trump has failed to follow up.
.. since 2003 China has four times promised to address overcapacity in steel production, as its actual capacity quadrupled to roughly half the world total.
.. Yet China exports little steel to the U.S. because of existing duties and accounts for just 11% of its aluminum imports, far behind Canada. The Commerce Department argued for a global remedy because Chinese production depresses global prices and drives foreign producers out of third markets, and they then ship to the U.S.
This means the pain of Mr. Trump’s tariffs will fall not on China but on actors that play by the rules, including Canada, Japan and the European Union. When the EU threatened to retaliate, Mr. Trump said he would escalate by raising duties on European cars.
Chinese misbehavior has thus brought the U.S. to the brink of trade war with its own economic and strategic allies, echoing how Russian meddling has served to fuel internal strife in Europe and the U.S.
.. Chinese forced technology transfer, commercial espionage and intellectual-property theft, all aimed at creating Chinese champions in key industries by 2025.
These pose a far greater threat to U.S. technological leadership and the enormous value it adds to U.S. exports than do growing imports of steel and aluminum which, while vital to some communities, are commodities.
.. The U.S. is preparing a sweeping penalty against China, but it would be more effective if done jointly; otherwise, Beijing may simply persuade others to hand over their technology in exchange for Chinese sales or capital.
.. Most of all, though, it requires Mr. Trump to understand where leverage comes from.
“Chinese misbehavior with respect to intellectual property and economic espionage is a real problem that requires a response,” Patrick Toomey, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “We are much more likely to get our allies to work with us if we aren’t punishing them for selling us steel that our consumers want to buy.”