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  July 26th, 2018 | Written by

The US-China trade war: a reading list

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  • The WTO has not constrained China’s industrial policies.
  • Many of China’s industrial and trade policies may not be WTO violations.
  • Current USTR Robert Lighthizer laid out Trump’s current trade strategy back in 2010.

Council on Foreign Relations expert Brad Setser has the following suggestions for those who want to better understand the background of the current US-China trade war.

The “China, Inc.” Challenge to Global Trade Governance. According to Mark Wu, an assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School, China likes the World Trade Organization because the international body has not constrained the country’s industrial policies. The Trump administration isn’t pursuing China inside the WTO because many of the policies that concern the US may not be WTO violations.

Robert Lighthizer’s testimony to the US China Economic and Security Review Commission. Back in 2010, the current US Trade Representative complained that China’s WTO accession was mishandled and argues it was a mistake to let China into the WTO. According to Setser, the last ten pages of Lighthizer’s testimony lay out the strategy that Trump is now pursuing.

Jennifer Hillman’s 2018 testimony before the US China Economic and Security Review Commission. The Georgetown law professor and former WTO judge fundamentally disagrees with Lighthizer. She believes the WTO process regarding China should be given a chance to work and that the US and its allies should mount broad-based challenges to actions that frustrate the intent of the trade liberalization China committed to when it joined the WTO.

All three documents express disappointment that China’s WTO accession did not do more to transform business and economic rules inside China. Commerce has not transformed China’s Communist Party. The party and the Chinese state still exercise control over China’s economy. Although supposedly private companies play a greater role in the Chinese economy, they are able to remain both successful and private only with the support of the Communist Party.