U.S.-China expert educates Steamboat audience as shaky trade talks continue in Shanghai (with audio)
Trump's tariffs got the Chinese to the table, former diplomat admits
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As China and the U.S. resume trade talks this week, a Steamboat Springs audience this week got a front row seat to hear one of the world’s most respected authorities on China-U.S. relations.
Former diplomat Robert Daly said President Donald Trump’s tariffs did one good thing.
“Trump did succeed in getting China’s attention to bring them to the table. That’s what tariffs did, even if they were irrational,” Daly said Monday during the Seminars at Steamboat, a non-partisan group of citizens who bring in public policy experts to discuss the world’s most relevant issues. He also warned against politicos calling China an “existential threat” and gave examples of how to keep the two countries from going into a “cold war” stance.
Daly is the director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and has interpreted for everyone from Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter to Chinese leaders and spent many years living in China.
Daly cautions that most mainstream economists and foreign affairs experts agree that Trump imposed tariffs for the wrong reason: the trade deficit. “The trade deficit with China is either not a problem at all or is not at the core of our economic argument with China,” he said.
“The real issues are the lack of reciprocity in U.S.-China trade and economic relations…” Daly added. “…The fact that China’s economy remains relatively closed; China’s subsidies to state-owned enterprises; its many non-tariff (administrative and/or capricious) barriers to trade; and its treatment of foreign intellectual property.”
Even as trade negotiations continue in Shanghai between U.S. and Chinese leaders, Daly says some economists are now hoping Trump won’t back down in negotiations, so that China will change some of its most unfair trade practices.
However, while most other countries agree “with our critique of China,” they don’t like Trump’s “pressure” tactics, according to Daly, who pointed out that the U.S. needs other countries to back it up.
Daly also warned that China is able to take suffering to extremes, something Americans aren’t always willing to do.
“Suffering is a national virtue,” Daly said of China.
“Are Americans willing to sustain the cost of a global war with China?” Daly asked the audience, citing American farmers who have lost their Chinese customers.
“We don’t even have the will to modernize our own infrastructure or raise our gas taxes,” he added.
Ever the diplomat, Daly expressed his concern over Vice President Mike Pence’s recent speech on China. While he indicated Pence pointed out real problems with China’s treatment of trade and human rights, Daly said the vice president has espoused “exaggerated” and even “silly” statements without offering any policy or strategies.
Pence basically said, “We don’t like your face, and we’re upgrading our nuclear arsenal,” said Daly to audience laughter.
Daly, who has also headed up Chinese studies at major American universities, laid out a number of ways to keep America and China from the brink of a deadly cold war and a costly trade war that could wreck both economies.
He said, first, the U.S. has to acknowledge its differences and rivalry with China; define national interests with regards to China including preventing China’s dominance in the IndoPacific region, which might cripple American allegiances there and undermine international law; and recognize the increase in China’s influence across the world while lowering threat perceptions.
“We need to give them influence without letting them dominate, and (the U.S. should) work to counter China’s illiberalism but welcome China’s good actions,” Daly said. He also explained that Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership hurt our alliances in Asia and made China more influential.
He also advised the U.S. to engage in joint efforts with China on climate change, global health, peacekeeping, safety standards and ethical technology regulation.
“We don’t need a deal with China, we need a relationship with China,” Daly said, based on “our common humanity.”
This doesn’t mean not challenging them when necessary, according to Daly, emphasizing that the average Chinese and American citizen aren’t really as concerned with each other’s governments as the politicos are.
He also said working with America is in China’s best interest.
“China isn’t even controlling its inner borders very well. It has problems with debt, demographics, a rapidly aging population, no social net, corruption, pollution, a water shortage in North China and their problem with rich and poor (imbalance) is even greater than ours,” he said.
Not to mention other countries’ resistance to China’s communist policies, he added.
“Even China’s own leaders see it as fragile,” he said.
For Daly’s full Seminar on his insight into China history and culture and his topic: U.S.-China Relations: Can We Step Back from the Brink?” go to seminarsatteamboat.org and find the podcast link or on KUNC.org.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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