President Joe Biden implied Monday that he may soon cut tariffs on imports from China, noting, "We did not impose any of those tariffs — they were imposed by the last administration."
Reducing tariffs now would be a mistake because of timing and because cutting them does not simply return things to the way they were before the duties were imposed. The signal it sends is different from that.
Most economists believe cutting tariffs would provide a negligible benefit in reducing inflation. Supply chain shortages in China, some due to its COVID lockdown policies, reinforce this fact. In setting policy, the question of who started it should also be irrelevant, although Biden seems incapable of leaving a Trump policy in place, whether or not it works. What matters is whether the tariffs are beneficial or detrimental to U.S. interests overall.
We opposed former President Donald Trump's trade war with China, but we believe the $350 billion in tariffs in question should be kept in place for the moment. They were imposed to punish China for its rampant intellectual property theft and trade manipulation, which continue to this day. Beijing should not receive any American favors until it adopts basic standards of transparency, fair dealing, and law in international commerce.
Biden and his officials should keep up the pressure on Beijing with a clear message that until it changes its behavior, its terms of trade will remain punishing.
The Biden administration should also do more to help American companies move their supply chains out of China. Some are, belatedly, doing so, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Apple may relocate some manufacturing operations from China to India. It recognizes that General Secretary Xi Jinping's demented and tyrannical COVID lockdown strategy isn't going away and that the resultant bottlenecks and material shortages are acute.
Biden should not flirt with a policy that rewards China, which refuses to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and is escalating its threats against Taiwan. American businesses risk damaging their reputations by engaging with China at all and Biden should not provide them any cover.
Instead, Biden appears tempted to throw the Communist Party a lifeline in spite of itself. This reeks not of strong leadership but of a supplicant leader desperate to grasp for any and all possible means of avoiding midterm election annihilation, whatever the price.
That Biden would contemplate doing so at the expense of such obvious moral and national security imperatives is striking. It undermines his credibility when he simultaneously pledges to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
Biden's waffling also encourages Australia's new and likely more Beijing-friendly Labor government to adopt a more concessionary stance in its own trade conflict with China. Biden's very words undermine U.S. efforts to put up a coordinated, united front against Chinese bullying and rule breaking. Put simply, Biden is presenting exactly the kind of leadership for which Democrats so scathingly, and sometimes rightly, attacked Trump — that of placing narrow political interests before far greater national concerns.