It’s fair to say President Trump is no big fan of China. Since bursting onto the political scene in 2015, Trump made combating and confronting China’s rise the backbone of his unexpected run. Trump’s hardline approach to the burgeoning superpower seemed to strike a chord with many Americans. At the time of his election, 47% of Americans said they had an unfavorable view of China, according to Pew Research. Today, that number is 66%. President Trump has tackled the main threats from China: currency manipulation, market abuse, and intellectual property theft by holding them accountable. By following through on threats and prosecuting crimes, Trump’s policy has put paper into practice.
Despite warnings that combating China would cripple the US economy, Trump was able to punish China for defrauding American investors by mandating audits on Chinese companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Trump proved that the US could stand up to China. While disruptions to supply chains and tariffs on both sides caused pain to the US economy in the short term, it also signaled to China that the US was willing to bear some pain to win in the long term.
The Trump administration was able to make significant progress on a series of issues, most notably security. The United States and dozens of European countries pledged not to use Chinese technology to build out their critical 5G infrastructure, for well-justified fears of security issues. As Robbie Gramer of Foreign Policy Magazine explains, without America offering viable alternatives to Chinese technology, and the Trump administration’s “Clean Network” program that sought to counter “long-term threats to data privacy, security and human rights posed to the free world from authoritarian malign actors”, it’s unlikely that our allies would have been able to do so.
Currently, China remains the single largest intellectual property thief in the world, stealing up to $600 Billion worth of IP from American companies. According to CNBC’s data as of March of last year, 1 in 5 American companies say that China has stolen their IP. Over 80% of all cases involving economic espionage involve China. This has a uniquely damaging effect on the US, as it prevents innovators and entrepreneurs in the United States from competing on a global scale as their ideas are stolen, infringed, or replicated by Chinese companies in clear infraction of international law. According to the Justice Department, Trump’s policies added accountability, as the current administration has prosecuted a record number of Chinese nationals for stealing American trade secrets. Prison time and large fines for individuals act as a strong incentive for Chinese companies to comply with the law. Add this to Chinese commitments to protect American trade and economic secrets in the Phase 1 trade deal, and it is tough to deny credit to the Trump administration for protecting America’s ideas.
Ultimately, while Trump’s rhetoric surrounding China has at times been undoubtedly out of line and wrong, the policies his administration has actualized are a big step in the right direction. By setting up systems of accountability and following through on threats, the administration has put Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party on notice that America is willing to protect its citizens.