May 17, 2020

What might happen if the U.S. President decides to blow up the trade deal?

Comment by Bill Bishop @Sinocism

In many ways Trump is the ballast keeping those more hardline national security policies from moving forward, all because he has wanted to make the trade deal. If he now abandons that goal, do not be surprised to see movement around areas Beijing is going to get really upset about, like Magnitsky Act sanctions and Taiwan, as well as further efforts in the financial and technology sectors. So we would probably end with a trade war, tech war, information war, financial war and, best case in this scenario, cold war.

Is that the likely outcome? I am not going to predict that it is, but the odds of a sharp and significant increasing downward slope in the trajectory of US-China relations looks even more likely.


The politics on the trade deal have shifted significantly in the US since the agreement was signed in January. The human and economic carnage from the pandemic has made it look increasingly likely that the best pathway for Trump to win re-election in November is to “blame China”, not just in rhetoric but in action. And the weak phase one trade deal, in spite of its benefits for some key Trump supporters, does not look nearly good enough now to help in November. *What we may be watching is the convergence of the more hawkish national security stream with the domestic political stream that now sees more value in blowing up the trade deal than keeping it.

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