Trade war would likely still have similar issues even under Democrats, says expert

Though there are those who may think that the trade war between China and the United States falls at the feet of President Donald Trump completely, that isn’t necessarily so, says a trade law expert.

“I think the Chinese are miscalculating if they think that the position of the Democrat, any Democrat, any of the 20 odd who are running, is going to be fundamentally different from what the Trump administration’s position has been,” said Raj Bhala, the Brennesein Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas Law School and a Senior Advisor at Dentons.

The issues that have actually been formally brought by the Trump administration to the table are ones both political parties can agree on.

“The following topics need to be addressed,” said Bhala. “One is the intellectual property theft, second is the outright cyber attacks and cyber theft. Third is the Made In China 2025 industrial policy. Fourth are the disciplines on state-owned enterprises that need to be dealt with. Fifth is the tremendous trade imbalance.”

There is argument as to whether or not continuing to increase tariffs is the right weapon to use, but these are battles that need to be fought. The Trump administration thinks they are at the last resort.

“They feel that they have exhausted all other options,” said Bhala. “They’ve gone through the direct bilateral negotiations route. They have refrained from calling China a currency manipulator. They have sued China in the WTO. They’ve done everything they can, they feel, short of using the Section 301 weapon. If the White House flips to the Democrats, the Democrats are going to be in the same position, with this problem of how to encourage structural
reforms in China.”

China is dealing with protests in Hong Kong and their attendant application to Taiwan. It remains to be seen if the Chinese are willing to use political capital to keep their economy under continued government control even as they look to keep their influence over these small enclaves that have tasted freedom since the 1940s.