Wilbur Ross has returned from Beijing empty-handed. This should be no surprise. President Trump undercut his own China trade negotiator by yet again threatening to levy a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports at the same time as he moved forward with the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on almost every one of the U.S.’s top allies. The resulting outcry and threat of retaliatory tariffs by Canada, Mexico, and the EU gave Beijing cover to do nothing. With the U.S. economy under siege from all sides, Beijing now rightly calculates that the pressure on the Trump administration to rethink its trade strategy will be intense and Washington, ultimately, will blink. Or, if it doesn’t, Beijing has a whole new set of friends with whom to ally against the United States.
The President’s propensity to move in many directions all at once with little sense of a strategy arc is not limited to the trade front. On Taiwan and the South China Sea, a similar pattern of head-spinning tactical moves with no clear endgame is underway. To get the full picture, take a look at my recent piece for The Hill.