What does the narrative of fair trade with China mean?

This morning I watched the Fox Business Network‘s Mornings with Maria.  They have been featuring news clips of an interview that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with host Maria Bartiromo where he criticizes China’s trade policy toward the United States and warns Americans of the Chinese intent to steal American intellectual property and Americans’ personal information.  The United States has been making it clear for years that it is unhappy with what it describes as an imbalance in trade between the two nations.

China has a potentially large consumer market, its emergence stymied in part to its current status as a creditor nation where it finances other nations, including the United States versus living off of the dead aid provided by western nations as part of their policy of noblesse oblige toward emerging, lesser developed countries.  In addition, given its growing economic power, it is easily in a position to influence economic affairs in southeast Asia.  As a provider of inexpensive telecommunications equipment it has been able to enter Europe’s telecommunications market providing competition for American made telecommunications products.

But at the heart of the American narrative may be the fear that the Anglo-American world view or philosophy is being challenged by an alternative Chinese view that, if not held under control, will replace the Anglo view thus making the current American narrative on political economy i.e. the greatness of the republican form of government combined with a free market, less attractive for leadership in other nations to use the American model for governing their domestic and foreign trade affairs.

Pompeo and other American leaders have been using the media to signal to Americans that China’s actions are a threat to the American economy thus a threat to the American way of life.  I can see the broad strokes.  For example, if China continues to lock the US out of additional trading opportunities in China and can price the US out of European and other Asian technology and manufacturing markets, America’s wealth and trade influence would shrink and the US would be forced to become more self-reliant.  America, facing a challenged supply chain, would see shortages and increasing prices for goods and services thus the threat to the American way of life.

Pompeo also describes China’s activity as a threat to American democracy.  That threat I don’t buy into and I see it more as a jingoistic ploy than anything else.  Democracy refers to a citizen’s ability to participate in the process whereby political leaders are selected.  Pompeo has yet to state his case in a cogent manner.  He has insinuated that China has deployed an influence campaign targeting voters and elected officials alike but has provided no specifics.

In addition, the terms fairness and balance are continuously uttered, likely part of the jingoism campaign, as Americans tend to conflate fairness and balance with democracy.  A fair and balanced trade relationship between two countries has nothing to do with how the leaders in each respective country are chosen.  Americans should be asking themselves and their leaders why connecting these points creates such a sound political narrative that US electorate would have no other choice but to support any legal initiatives or actions that promote escalated tensions.

And the legal actions and initiatives are being turned up.  The Justice Department recently told PBS News that 60% of its trade cases are against China and that its actions against China are more in line with stopping illegal activity versus expressing an intellectual bias.

I see law as the codification of an originating philosophy transmitted via a narrative and  refined by politics and policy.  What is missing here is the jurisprudence.  For the citizen to properly understand the government’s legal actions against China trade policy, the focus has to come off of messages that conflate democracy, fairness, and balance, and look for the philosophy that is being promoted.  Conflation promoted by government officials should open up the citizens’ minds to questions about the mismatch between the politics, the policy, and the messaging.

Getting to the why is critical.

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