U.S.-China trade dispute discussed at Temple ahead of G20 summit

Several scholars visited the university to debate U.S.-China relations before the countries are on the world stage this week.

Scholars debated the United States-China trade dispute ahead of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, where the leaders of several major world economies will meet this week.

The highly anticipated summit, where President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet, is expected to bring deliberation, and a possible resolution, about the ongoing trade war. An American Enterprise Institute scholar and a law professor from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, discussed the issue at Temple’s International Affairs Lecture Series in the Student Center on Nov. 15.

Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at AEI, a nonpartisan, nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and Guiguo Wang, the Eason-Weinmann Chair of International and Comparative Law at Tulane University, participated in a two-hour debate and presentation about the current economic divide between the two nations. 

The event brought in about 100 students, faculty and others from around the world, including international students from China and Taiwan. 

The two scholars’ perspectives on Trump’s trade war underscored the differing views on the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese imports. 

To increase purchases of American goods, Trump placed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports in three separate rounds of tariffs this year, the BBC reported. This led China to retaliate with its own tariff on $60 billion worth of American imports.  

Chinese retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural and industrial products have hurt America’s businesses in those sectors, forcing them to lower prices to account for China’s reduced purchases of U.S. goods, the New York Times reported.

The Trump administration justified many of the tariffs based on the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which permits the U.S. to initiate tariffs on national security grounds. The tariffs contradict a previous agreement the U.S. made within the World Trade Organization, Reuters reported.

Trump walked back promises made by prior administrations, which was a violation of the principle of good faith, Wang said during the debate. The principle is considered international law by the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body, a board that settles trade disputes between nations.

Scissors backed the president’s right to use the trade law to level tariffs against China in a conversation with student journalists before the debate.

“No international law overrides U.S. law,” Scissors said. “That’s the reality of U.S. politics. [The agreement] was never ratified by the Senate. The U.S. has the right to change its policy.”

Wang criticized how Trump is prioritizing an “America First” policy, rather than honoring previous World Trade Organization agreements.

“That is exactly U.S. arrogance,” Wang said. “If you won’t follow some common rules, who is going to deal with you?” 

“The international community’s view is that governments make binding accords,” he added. “Let’s put it this way. If everyone acted like the U.S. was acting, what would be the order of the world?”

Scissors said the U.S. is free to withdraw its participation in the World Trade Organization and retaliate against China, but he expects the trade dispute to get worse.

Scissors said that unlike Wang, he was focused on what was happening on the ground, adding that U.S.-China relations are likely to worsen in the future. He outlined the U.S. Trade Representative Office’s findings, which stated China has stolen intellectual property.

“China does not believe in open competition,” Scissors added. “There is not a stress on private property rights. The phrase ‘technological Cold War’ has been used. I think that’s accurate. I don’t see that changing with the next administration.”

Scissors and Wang both supported free trade and the belief that the World Trade Organization has played an important international role in its history. 

“I’ve never heard that the trade war might get worse,” said Rico Le, a junior communication and social influence major who attended the talk. “Maybe it’s only the beginning.” 

Chinese and American leaders, along with the leaders of Canada, Mexico, the European Union and several other nations, will meet at the summit on Friday and Saturday to discuss their economic interests.

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