Tariffs may be working
Beijing just blinked. True standoffs, with both sides unyielding over their differences, seldom occur. Most of the time, one side sticks to its position for a time, then signals it may be amenable to compromising in order to avoid further unpleasantness.
Sometimes we say that, in such situations, the other guy blinked.
China has engaged in unfair trade practices for a number of years. Among them have been devaluing its currency, stealing intellectual property and agreeing to international pacts with no intention of complying.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump said decisive action was needed to force Beijing to end such practices. He ordered that stiff tariffs be imposed on Chinese-made goods sold in the United States.
Critics of that action have warned it could set off a new recession here. Some Americans, including farmers who sell enormous quantities of food to China, already have been hurt by Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs.
But this week, Chinese officials signaled they may be willing to talk. “We hope the United States will meet China halfway,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Negotiators for his country and ours should “work out a resolution that is acceptable to both sides, on the basis of mutual respect and equal treatment,” Geng added.
Well, that’s a start — but only a half-step forward between the United States and China.
With an election year on the horizon here, Chinese officials may be hoping Trump will ease U.S. tariffs in exchange for any deal he can boast about on the campaign trail. They should talk to their ally, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, about that.
Kim has attempted to use North Korea’s tried-and-true strategy for handling relations with the United States. First, offer to dial back militarism. Next, get concessions from Washington. Finally, break your promises and go back to building up your arsenal.
At first, it seemed to be working with Trump. Then, the president insisted on concrete de-nuclearization steps, and Pyongyang balked. That was not part of the plan — but it is the only way to handle North Korea.
Trump should stick to the same strategy with Beijing. Clearly, the Chinese economy is being hurt by U.S. tariffs — otherwise, the “meet halfway” offer would not have been made.
If Chinese officials are willing to take real, lasting steps to normalize trade relations, Trump should follow through — with the warning that if Beijing goes back to business as usual, the tariffs will, if anything, be stiffened.