Earlier in the day, Trump displayed his appetite for a fight in a series of tweets hailing his protectionist maneuvers, which he claims have significantly boosted the U.S. economy. White House officials later told my colleagues that Trump will further add to the new slate of tariffs on China should Beijing retaliate, as it is expected to do.
But in the short term, at least, the punitive measures aimed at China — which Trump accused of posing “a grave threat to the long-term health and prosperity of the United States economy” — will hurt Americans more.
“Trump has ordered aides to set the tariffs at 10 percent, likely leading to higher prices for American consumers. These tariffs are paid by U.S. companies that import the products, though they often pass the costs along to U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices,” my colleagues reported over the weekend. “The U.S. imports roughly $500 billion in Chinese goods each year, and — combined with existing tariffs — these new penalties would cover half of all goods sent to the U.S. from China each year.”
“The Trump administration’s trade hawks have so far prevailed against Wall Street-friendly voices of trade moderation, such as Mr. Mnuchin, a onetime Goldman Sachs executive,” noted the New York Times. “That is partly because the trade war hasn’t shown President Trump much downside. His stance has won support from both parties. The United States economy shows few signs of trade-war damage, and markets continue to rise.”
But that rosy outlook may not last long. “Favorable economic conditions still put the United States in a strong position,” wrote Marie Kasperek of the Atlantic Council. “Yet experts caution that this soon will change, as the impact of additional tariffs would reverse economic tailwind created by the combination of more government spending and the hefty tax cuts.”
U.S. farmers are already feeling the pain of retaliatory tariffs enacted by China, the European Union and other countries targeted by the Trump administration’s trade actions. Future reprisals from Beijing could raise costs even further for U.S. manufacturers.
White House officials emphasize that Trump is adopting the hard line his predecessors failed to, and that the administration is still open to substantive dialogue. “We are willing to talk with China any time if they are willing to move toward serious talks to remedy the trade problems,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s national economic adviser, said Monday. “On something of substance, [Trump’s negotiating team wants Chinese counterparts to] just say yes. Just say yes to a couple of things and then we can move ahead.”
But Trump’s bullying approach won’t be the ticket with Beijing, whose leadership — and public — don’t respond well to threats. “Getting the Chinese to the bargaining table should be all about face-saving — not a chest-thumping exercise,” James Zimmerman, a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said to my colleague Danielle Paquette. “Xi has no choice but to stand firm and stand tall.”
The expert view in China increasingly casts Trump’s trade policies as part of a wider campaign to challenge — or impede — China’s geopolitical rise. “It’s getting more and more obvious that the Trump administration is determined to contain China,” Shi Yinhong, a foreign affairs expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said to the Financial Times. “I think the next round of tariffs is inevitable. The trade war will last for quite a long time.”
As Paquette reported, China’s middle class, oft animated by nationalist currents, wants to see Beijing take a tough line against Trump.
“China will choose the most favorable and powerful way to counterattack,” read an editorial in the Global Times, a particularly strident state mouthpiece. “We are looking forward to a more beautiful counterattack that will make American pain worse.”