President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are set to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this weekend.
The two will try to unpack what’s going on in the U.S.-China trade dispute, why negotiations have become difficult, and how the two sides can come to a deal.
A deal will get done, eventually. Trump regularly says he wants a deal. Just don’t expect that deal this weekend.
More likely, we’ll see Trump and Xi agree to pretty much the same thing they agreed to at last year’s G-20 summit. Last December, the presidents agreed to postpone any new tariffs on traded goods between the U.S. and China during negotiations.
A similar agreement this weekend would mean the 25% tax the Trump administration currently has on $250 billion worth of goods Americans buy from China will remain until a deal is done, a cost Americans will have to continue to pay.
Alternatively, Trump is planning another 25% tax on $300 billion worth of other Chinese goods if negotiations aren’t successful.
So, when will a deal get done? And how much longer will Americans have to pay these taxes? It’s hard to say.
Yet, it’s important to remember that a deal now won’t mean an end to the number of other complaints the U.S. has of the Chinese government, whether it’s concerns over commercial practices in China or otherwise.
A deal would still be relatively limited, as it will try to address those commercial practices, U.S. investment opportunities in China, and the intellectual property rights of American innovators.
But there’s hardly a public policy issue today—especially in foreign policy—that doesn’t involve China in some direct or indirect way.
So, it’s easy for many observers to prescribe what should be a part of a deal with China. Everyone wants to lump their complaints about China in with the president’s deal, making it harder for Washington and Beijing to come to an agreement.
That being said, we should understand that a deal now won’t protect the millions of Muslims in western China that are being persecuted. It won’t make the Chinese Communist Party spend less on its military development. It won’t alter Chinese designs on Taiwan, or on the South China Sea or East China Sea.
It also shouldn’t stop us from continuing to enforce our laws to protect U.S. national interests.
To his credit, Trump is unlikely to trade away any of these noncommercial interests as a part of a trade deal with China.
For example, his administration will continue to investigate the practices of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and allegations that it evaded U.S. sanctions against Iran, that it has stolen trade secrets, and that it actively conspired against the interests of the U.S.
Even when a deal is done, the U.S. should continue to seek to punish those who steal intellectual property—and not by punishing Americans simply because they want to buy goods from China.
The U.S. must enforce the rule of law and protect our intellectual property rights before, during, and after any deal with China is made. Otherwise, issues like theft stop being legal matters and become bargaining chips.