Was Letting China Into the WTO a Mistake?

Why There Were No Better Alternatives

The Shanghai financial district, May 12, 2013. Carlos Barria / Reuters

As President Donald Trump’s recent $60 billion-a-year trade tariffs against China have made abundantly clear, there has been growing discontent in the United States with Beijing’s failure to conform to liberal economic and democratic norms. The dismay over Chinese protectionism, and its negative impact on developed economies, has emanated not just from the White House, but from voters as well as from diplomatic, commercial, and academic quarters. The chorus of outrage has even raised doubts over whether the West should have ever admitted China to the World Trade Organization, whose rules-based system seemingly enabled Beijing to prosper even as it engaged in questionable behavior. Was letting China into the WTO a strategic mistake?

In a report released earlier this year, the U.S. Trade Representative argued rather provocatively that the United States had indeed “erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO on terms that have proven to

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