Trump had the wrong goal on China — and still failed to achieve it: conservative
Trump said he was ready for a "historic" deal with China as the leaders kicked off their meeting and Xi told him "dialogue" was better than confrontation AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Writing at The Bulwark, Mona Charen made a traditional conservative case that Donald Trump failed in his approach to China.

"One thing that Republicans persuaded themselves of during the past five years has just come a cropper. It was the belief that whatever else Trump may have said or done, he sure was right about China. No, he was as wrong as could be on China," Charin wrote.

Charin argued Trump was wrong to look at the exporting of jobs caused by trade.

"Trump’s entire conception of the China challenge was fallacious. Trump thought the problem China posed was that it sold us too many things, resulting in a bilateral 'trade deficit' which meant that China was 'winning' and we were 'losing.' Trump clung to this misconception despite repeated efforts by advisors like Gary Cohn to disabuse him," she wrote. "While it is true that some industries lost jobs to Chinese competition over the past two decades, it is also true that other industries gained jobs due to trade with China and other countries, and lower-income consumers were particularly enriched by the abundance of inexpensive goods China and others supplied."

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Charin repeated conservative arguments for trade and argued that Trump had failed even by his own metric.

"Economists nearly unanimously consider the trade deficit to be a useless statistic for many reasons, including: 1) a trade deficit reflects the fact that Americans have lots of money to spend; 2) it fails to consider that when China sells us goods and we pay in dollars, those dollars come back to us in the form of capital investment; 3) it’s super complicated to figure out bi-lateral balances of trade because so much trade in the 21st century involves multiple countries; and 4) trade deficits are associated with economic growth, not decline," she wrote. "So, Trump was wrong about trade deals being bad for America and wrong about his own ability to make a dent in the trade deficit (which doesn’t matter anyway). Under his leadership, the U.S. trade deficit was the largest in a decade—a failure, by Trump’s lights."

Charon argued that Trump should've backed the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

"Instead, one of Trump’s first acts was to withdraw from the TPP. Sadly, the Democratic party has also abandoned free trade, and in deference to his left flank, President Biden has done little to reverse the protectionism of his predecessor," she wrote. "Trump’s assumption that trade deficits are a scorecard in a contest between countries was wrong. And even by that flawed metric, he failed."

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