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CHINADAILY Editorial

Trade, diplomacy are ways to make friends, not enemies: China Daily editorial

China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-03 23:43

While previous US administrations used trade deals as a way of promoting US influence around the world, trade was not the be-all and end-all of their foreign policy. The same cannot be said of the current administration as President Donald Trump has made trade the defining characteristic of his foreign policy.

Whether it be through sanctions or tariffs, trade is being used as leverage for the populist "America first" strategy that propelled him through the White House door.

The use of aggressive trade policies to achieve foreign policy objectives may make the US president feel more at ease, as it is deal-making in a manner he is used to, but it risks reducing complex issues to a "you lose, I win" proposition or else complicating them further. One only has to look at his conflating the trade dispute with China with his stalled engagement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to see how this has compounded both issues exponentially and by a large order of magnitude.

Perhaps this is to be expected as his appeal has been built on the simple message of "us versus them", whether that be those in the swamp versus good people, or a battle of noble America against evil regimes. His policies, and his early exposure to the power of positive thinking, demand simple answers to difficult problems.

If only life was so obliging.

Making trade a means of persuasion for foreign policy objectives and vice versa may seem like a good idea to an administration that lacks diplomatic nous, but one can't help feeling that history has shown enough times it actually isn't that good a notion.

Instead of getting bogged down in a nondeliverable strategy for exceptionalism that is damaging the US economy and leadership rather than enhancing them, the administration would do better to look at how trade and diplomacy are two means to connect with other countries and forge friendly and mutually beneficial relations.

For example, the European Commission's decision not to extend the restrictions on imports of solar panels from China, which expired at midnight on Monday, has reset relations between the two sides and, as China's Ministry of Commerce said, is conducive to establishing a stable and predictable business environment.

The Trump administration's coercion-based approach to trade and its reliance on it as a foreign policy tool have failed to pay dividends; perhaps it is time the people as shareholders of the nation demanded a change of approach.

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