Donald Trump just laid another risky global bet — escalating a trade war with China by imposing additional tariffs on Chinese goods in the midst of ongoing trade talks — and neither he nor anyone else can be sure of what happens next.The sharp escalation could rattle investors and is the latest manifestation of the building superpower conflict across the Pacific. It will stoke new concern about the President’s unapologetically unpredictable statesmanship.
The confrontation comes at a time when anxiety is already growing over Trump’s stewardship of several other foreign policy crises, including with Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.The US imposed new tariffs on a further $200 billion in Chinese goods following a midnight deadline and after the President accused Beijing of backtracking on a deal between the world’s two largest economies.It’s possible that the gambit could work as negotiators from the two sides are meeting again in Washington on Friday. But the fear will be that the US and China are now heading for a prolonged showdown that could hurt the world economy.Trump said on Friday that there was no rush to reach a deal since tariffs of up to 25% were now “being paid” on some of China’s exports to the US.”Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” Trump tweeted.It is true that raised duties could dampen demand for Chinese goods, but it is American shoppers who end up paying the costs of higher tariffs.Trump’s tactic reflects his belief that the strong US economy gives him leeway to inflict pain on China’s products, workers and consumers and will force its leaders to back down and make fresh concessions.It’s a classic move from a former real estate tycoon who preaches the art of the deal, often raises the stakes at the last minute and says he is always ready to walk away from the table.But the new tariff hike is sure to draw reprisals from China, barring an overtime deal on Friday, that could rebound against the President and US consumers — especially in the agricultural and industrial heartlands of the Midwest.
The China showdown has been building for months, like the other current foreign policy dramas, does not come as a sudden surprise.Trump has been complaining about China’s economic practices and the Sino-US trade deficit for decades — since long before he became a politician, and it’s possible to draw a line between his latest move and the 2016 campaign when he accused Beijing of “raping” US workers.Presidents reap what they sow in foreign policy, even if it takes time for initial decisions made early in their terms to reshape the world.But the bill may be becoming due for Trump’s unorthodox style.The President often treats foreign policy as an extension of his wild, unpredictable character that abhors restraints, has little appreciation for history and lives in the moment. He says he’s the master deal maker, but he’s more of a destroyer than a builder on the world stage.He loves splashy headlines, defying the wisdom of diplomatic sages, the spotlight of one-on-one summits, jabbing allies and using tyrants as pen pals.He enjoys wielding a big stick but doesn’t want to get into foreign quagmires. He disdains long-thought-out strategies, hates global organizations and doesn’t sweat details.The current dramas have all been exacerbated by the President’s shoot-from-the-lip interventions and his tendency to reject traditional diplomatic practice.