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Would Donald Trump’s Tariffs Start a Trade War With China?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has accused Beijing of keeping its currency low, making it impossible for U.S. companies to compete with their Chinese rivals. (Image: Washington Free Beacon and Free China  via YouTube/Screenshot)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has accused Beijing of keeping its currency low, making it impossible for U.S. companies to compete with their Chinese rivals. (Image: Washington Free Beacon and Free China via YouTube/Screenshot)

“It’s the economy stupid,” is a phrase attributed to a staffer from the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign, but it’s maybe something that Donald Trump would like the media to mainly focus on when it comes to his speeches.

By and large the core of media coverage on the flamboyant Republican presidential candidate is about his more controversial aspects. But let’s not go there.

One feature of Trump’s platform has been about trade relations with China, and how he would use a 45 percent tariff on made in China goods “if they don’t behave.”

By that, the business tycoon includes how Beijing — among others — manipulates its currency to ensure it maintains trade advantages. He also says that there is no such thing as free trade with China, and that the Chinese don’t trade fair.

“China dumps everything that they have over here. No tax, no nothing, no problems, no curfews, no anything. We can’t get into China. I have the best people, manufacturers, they can’t get in. When they get in, they have to pay a tremendous tax,” Trump said at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.

“The 45 percent is a threat that if they don’t behave, if they don’t follow the rules and regulations so that we can have it equal on both sides, we will tax you. It doesn’t have to be 45, it could be less,” the 69-year-old said.

“But it has to be something because our country, and our trade, and our deals, and most importantly our jobs are going to hell.​​”

Watch Trump spar with fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz about his 45 percent China export tax threat in this video posted by the Washington Free Beacon:

At least one respected China watcher, Gordon Chang, admits that what Trump says is, by and large, correct. Chang adds that the U.S. is already in a trade war with China, but it is only one way.

“People say [Trump] would start a trade war. Well, no matter what The Donald does he can’t start a trade war because we’re already in a trade war with China. But only they are waging it,” Chang told CNBC.

“The question is, how do we end it on terms, not only advantageous to the United States, but also to the international community?” he said.

Chang said tariffs on made in China products to the U.S. might have to be on the table, but he added: “All choices are really bad.”

“China is [also] stealing intellectual property from the United States,” Chang said, pointing to the 2013 IP Commission Report. “The dimension of that is somewhere maybe $200 billion to $300 billion a year. That is a war in a sense.”

Watch this video by Free China about the moral cost of made in China products:

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