Yet despite the fact that Europe faces the exact same threat from China’s economic aggression, European leaders here in Biarritz are saying that the onus for ending the trade war is on Washington, not Beijing.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to persuade G-7 leaders (meaning Trump) to “avoid this trade war” and reduce tensions. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he didn’t like tariffs and wanted “trade peace.” European Council President Donald Tusk warned that Trump’s use of tariffs “as a political instrument” could cause a global recession. None of them mentioned China’s role in the dispute or its resolution.
Trump could blunt criticism of his China tariffs by backing off his concurrent tariff threats on our allies. The administration should focus on persuading European countries to join the pressure campaign against China, which is the real trade priority.
Privately, many European officials hope their countries’ stagnant economies might benefit from the U.S.-China fight, as companies from third countries pick up the business American companies leave behind. Also, European countries that want money from China’s One Belt, One Road initiative don’t want to anger the Chinese Communist Party before their checks clear.
A more diplomatically savvy Trump administration might point out to Europeans that China’s economic aggression comes at the expense of Europe’s own goals and interests, including confronting climate change, promoting sustainable development and protecting free markets.
The Trump administration also needs to offer European countries more real alternatives to Chinese development funds, which almost always come with political strings, corruption and ecological consequences.