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Trump's actions damaged US' international leadership

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-13 07:48
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (center L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump during a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day meeting. [Photo/Xinhua]

US President Donald Trump escalated the trade quarrel between the United States and China this week by announcing he intends to impose additional 10 percent tariffs on Chinese imports worth $200 billion.

When and how the trade conflict between the world's two largest economies will end is anyone's guess. However, one thing is clear: The damage it has done to the US' image and global leadership will dwarf any victory he tries to declare. In this sense, the US has already lost "bigly" with its many protectionist and isolationist measures.

Trump's ignorance is staggering. He believes that trade is a zero-sum game, and that a country with a trade deficit is being taken advantage of by its trade partners.

Yet many economists and trade experts have tried to enlighten Trump over the past year, including Jason Dedrick of Syracuse University, Greg Linden at University of California, Berkeley, and Kenneth Kraemer at UC, Irvine, who wrote this week on the Trump administration's misreading of the trade deficit, such as in the case of iPhone 7.

China added only $8.50 with a battery and labor costs while most of the $240 that shows up as a Chinese import to the US is retained by Apple, and companies from Japan and the Republic of Korea. Still, imports of iPhone 7 and 7 Plus contributed $15.7 billion to last year's US trade deficit with China, a seriously distorted figure.

Yet their efforts, and those of others, have all proved to be in vain.

The US tariffs will cause great harm to the global economy and disrupt global supply chains that include not only Chinese enterprises, but companies from around the world, including many from the US. These companies and consumers all oppose and resent Trump's tariffs.

The US has lost because Trump's unilateral and protectionist actions have deprived the US of any moral high ground. It is destroying the multilateral global trading system that the US helped to set up and tried to preach since the end of the World War II.

It is just the latest such US action following Trump's withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council as well as his reported threat to pull out of the WTO.

China announced on Wednesday that it will immediately file an additional complaint at the WTO regarding the latest US tariffs. While on Monday, Switzerland joined a host of others in filing WTO cases against the US for the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed in the name of national security.

Trump's unilateral actions, including his tariffs on China and many other nations, have also set a bad precedent that big powers can act wantonly and irresponsibly and bully other nations.

Trump is proud of being unpredictable, but that really means unreliability and irresponsibility that people don't expect from a superpower like the US.

That is probably why Pew and Gallup polls have showed a sharp decline in favorable sentiment toward the US around the world since Trump took office. So no matter how much money Trump can extract from China and the US' other trade partners, it will pale in significance to the losses sustained by US to its reputation and global leadership.

Trump may have been a shrewd real estate businessman and believes he can coerce other nations given the US' economic and military might, but he clearly does not realize the cost the US is paying for his administration's actions.

Perhaps Trump does not care about the US' reputation and leadership in the world. Which in itself suggests that the US has lost in the trade hostilities he has initiated against China and other major trade partners of the US.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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