Robert Samuelson takes on China’s economic tactics

It’s obvious to most people that China isn’t playing fair on global trade, but few people can get to the heart of the problem like Robert Samuelson. He describes how China uses tactics like subsidies, currency manipulation and technology transfer to gain advantage. Then he closes:

It’s important to make several qualifications. First, Americans shouldn’t blame China for all our economic problems, which are mostly homegrown. Indeed, the ferocity of the financial crisis discredited U.S. economic leadership and emboldened China to pursue its narrow interests more aggressively than ever. Second, the point should not be (as Chinese allege) to “contain” China’s growth; the point should be to modify its economic strategy, which is predatory. It comes at others’ expense.

The U.S. response has been mostly carrots — to pretend that sweet reason will convince China to alter its policies. Last week, Presidents Obama and Hu exchanged largely meaningless pledges of “cooperation.” Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a group of manufacturers, says U.S. policy verges on “appeasement.” We need sticks. The practical difficulty is being tougher without triggering a trade war that weakens the global recovery. Still, it’s possible to do something. The Treasury could brand China a currency manipulator, which it clearly is. The administration could move more forcefully against Chinese subsidies. America’s present passivity encourages China’s new world order, with fateful consequences for the United States and everyone else.

I think the current administration is in a bind, as the economic crisis has made it much more difficult to take a hard line with China and risk a trade war. Perhaps President Obama can reset the relationship and alter China’s behavior. If not, he will soon need to get tough with them.

GE’s Jeffrey Immelt says open access to China is crucial

Jeffrey Immelt.

In an interview with Reuters last week, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said that he believes China and the United States need to open up their borders for trade and abandon protectionist thinking. The interview came after Immelt attended a White House meeting with President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Just this week, General Electric signed $2 billion worth of deals supply electric turbines, railroad locomotives and aircraft components to Chinese companies.

From Reuters:

It also agreed to work with Chinese companies on gas and coal-powered turbines in China, on high-speed rail in the United States and formed a joint-venture company with China’s AVIC to develop electronics for a new single-aisle commercial jetliner being developed by a Chinese state-owned company.

“We want to make sure we see the evolution of free trade and transparency,” Immelt said. “From China, how can they invest more in the United States? How can they grow their companies here? There’s a little bit of angst on both sides, but on balance there is comfort that over time a lot of these things will get solved.”

It’s certainly an interesting take in the age of ‘Buy American’ campaigns. For the full story, head over to Reuters.

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