Has the Chinese government indulged in protectionist, provocative or otherwise illiberal policies that have, on occasion, violated its commitment to the rules of international trade? Yes.
Do the Chinese maintain other policies that very likely would be found to violate China’s WTO obligations? Yes.
Is the U.S. government within its rights to bring formal complaints about benefit-impairing Chinese trade practices to the World Trade Organization for adjudication and resolution? Yes.
But before getting all righteous and patriotic and demanding that China be deemed an economic pariah worthy of exceptionally harsh treatment, keep in mind that the U.S. government has been found out of compliance with its WTO obligations more than any other WTO member, and it remains out of compliance on a few issues to this very day.
In some respects, the Chinese are emulating the tack taken by U.S. policymakers during the past three presidential administrations and ten congresses by presuming there is no policy or practice that violates WTO rules unless and until that policy or practice has been determined by the WTO Appellate Body to be out of conformity, and sometimes not until after retaliation has been authorized, and sometimes not even then.
China’s protectionist policies – policies that make its markets less accessible to U.S. exports and investment – should be identified and challenged. But U.S. policymakers should consider abandoning self-destructive, protectionist policies that hurt U.S. interests more than Chinese ones in favor of greater cooperation from China resolving problems facing U.S. companies in that market. But greater cooperation doesn’t come at the barrel of a gun. It requires good will and an attitude of willing reciprocity from the U.S. side.
This new paper gives some background and offers the one important reform that could prove to be the elixir.