Several leaked reports from people “close to the negotiations” suggest that Trump will soon announce a trade deal with the Chinese government pretty much on China’s terms. This will serve Trump’s goal of changing the subject for one news cycle. But it will not serve the American economy.
All the indications are that China will make an ad hoc agreement to buy a lot of stuff, but not alter China’s mercantilist system, nor its systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property, nor the coercive terms which Beijing imposes on U.S. companies who want to do business in China, nor the spying built into its advanced technology.
Readers may recall the cover piece in our Spring issue addressing the talks with China, in which I asked the question, “Can Trump’s best appointee save the president from himself?” That appointee is Robert Lighthizer, the most knowledgeable and patriotic person to serve in the position of U.S. trade representative, maybe ever.
Lighthizer, in a long and distinguished career, has made clear just what China needs to do to be a member of the global trading system in good standing—the very trading system that has helped China become an industrial powerhouse. But Trump, for all his bluster, has repeatedly undercut Lighthizer with his slavering eagerness for a deal. That posture, of course, only encouraged China to take an ever harder line. So much for the Art of the Deal.
Lighthizer joins a long parade of decent people who elected to serve under Trump by convincing themselves that it was for the good of the country. As former FBI Chief James Comey pointed out in a rueful and poignant piece, Trump has made fools of them all.