China bashing has been a staple of U.S. populist politics for three decades, and the 2016 election was no exception. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly promised to stand up to China and hold it accountable to international trade rules, but the exact wording of her statements usually left her enough wiggle room to avoid action if necessary. President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-trade, anti-China rhetoric, however, unambiguously bound him to decisive action.
Now that he is headed for the Oval Office, Trump will have to make some difficult choices regarding which campaign promises to keep and how to keep them. With Republicans in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, he won't be able to blame Congress if he fails to deliver. In fact, he could make good on most of his promises on trade and China through executive action, without Congressional approval. U.S. President Barack Obama's penchant for governing by executive order means that many of his initiatives can be reversed with the stroke of a pen. Expect a quick end, for example, to U.S.-Chinese cooperation on climate change.
At the very beginning of his campaign, Trump pledged to label China a currency manipulator on day one in office (a promise Republican nominee Mitt Romney also made, in 2012). Trump has also vowed to take legal action against Beijing (domestically and at the World Trade Organization) and to slap punitive tariffs on China if it “does not stop its illegal activities.” Not much wiggle room there.
On top of all this is Trump's pledge to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s flagship trade, investment, and intellectual property deal. In theory, the TPP should attract broad support from the U.S. political establishment. In practice, it has become politically toxic. Primarily a tool for spreading U.S. interests abroad, Trump has portrayed it as a Trojan horse for foreign—and ultimately Chinese—influence.
Those were the campaign promises. What is the reality? President
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