The silk-silver axis,The world’s most important economic relationship is also its most fraught
IN 1784 the Empress of China set sail from New York, on the first American trade mission to China. Carrying ginseng, lead and woolen cloth, the merchants aboard dreamed of cracking open the vast Asian market. But the real profit, they found, came on their return, when they brought Chinese teas and porcelain to America. As other ships followed in its wake, the pattern became clear. Americans wanted more from China than Chinese wanted from America, and the difference was made up with a steady outflow of silver from America into China. The Empress had launched not just commercial ties between the two great countries but also an American deficit in its trade with China.
but nowadays electronic gadgets. In recent years it has reached a record size (see chart 1). When Xi Jinping, China’s president, meets Donald Trump—a meeting is reportedly planned in Florida early in April—the deficit will top the agenda. In his run to the White House, Mr Trump promised a combative stance against China on trade. Some expect America to slap punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, triggering an all-out trade war. Others think a grand bargain that defuses tensions is possible.
Many American businesses, bruised in their dealings with China, cautiously welcome a harder line. For their part, Chinese businesses feel unjustly singled out. Both sides are nervous, conscious that the world’s most important economic relationship is also its most complex. America and China are bound together by cross-border flows of goods, cash, people and ideas that are bigger than ever. These ties have greatly benefited the two countries’ prosperity. A rupture would be severely damaging for both.
The original sin, for Mr Trump’s most hawkish advisers, is the trade imbalance. Before China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China accounted for less than a quarter of America’s total trade deficit; over the past five years, it has made up two-thirds. Peter Navarro, head of Mr Trump’s new National Trade Council, sees the deficit as a drag on America’s economy. Close it, he argues, and America’s GDP will be bigger. And he sees a way to do so: take on China over its unfair trade practices, from currency meddling to export subsidies. In 2012 he released a documentary, “Death by China”, as a call to arms.
特朗普的强硬派顾问大多认为，双边关系的原罪是贸易不平衡。中国于2001年加入世贸组织之前，在美国总贸易逆差中只占了不到四分之一;过去五年中，中国已经占到三分之二。彼得·纳瓦罗(Peter Navarro)是特朗普新组建的全国贸易委员会的主席，他认为贸易赤字拖累了美国经济。纳瓦罗说，如果消除这一赤字，美国的GDP总量会更大。他认为有个办法可以消除贸易赤字：挑战中国从货币干预到出口补贴等不公平贸易的做法。2012年，纳瓦罗发布了纪录片《致命中国》(Death by China)，如同贸易战的檄文。