Congressional Commission’s Report: China Shows No Sign of Altering U.S. Trade Policies

By Matthew McMullan
Nov 15 2023 |
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden do the grip and grin in Indonesia in 2022. Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

President Biden meets with his Chinese counterpart today and expectations are low. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report to Congress has been published.

When last year’s report came out, President Biden had just met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an international conference in Indonesia. The big recommendation to Congress then was the revocation of China’s Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), a status granted by the U.S. government that keeps tariff rates low and predictable.

This year, the two are about to meet again, this time at a conference in San Francisco. Sources say they are unlikely to take the BART down to the Mission and sign some kinda trade war armistice over burritos. Instead, it’s again to be a highly managed affair that will result in very little; a confab for which expectations are being carefully managed. Xi by some estimates is more incentivized this year to make nice, but relations between the U.S. and Chinese governments remain tense. The goal of this meeting appears to be simply showing they can talk to each other.

“Both sides have been discussing whether they could find a way to a future commitment to keep artificial intelligence software out of their nuclear command and control systems,” reads a preview in The New York Times. “The fact that the bar is this low is telling. American officials say there is no plan for the two leaders to issue a joint statement of any kind. Instead, each government will provide its own account of the discussions.”

I’m only speaking for myself here – and not only for Schwarzenegger-related reasons – but I don’t think discussing AI’s role in our respective nuclear commands is low stakes at all. In fact: If this is the only thing they discuss, so be it! Better that than rescinding tariffs and loosening U.S. trade enforcement, even if Xi inexplicably asks very politely. It’s important to remember where this animosity has come from.

The tariffs on Chinese imports raised during the Trump administration and maintained by Biden today were in response to years of unfair Chinese trade that contributed to the hollowing out of American manufacturing and the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs. It was egged on by China’s lavish state support for key industries – today it’s the energy industries of the future, specifically solar power – and the U.S. trade complaints have largely gone unaddressed.

Many observers argue Chinese trade policy toward the United States is only growing more recalcitrant. Today, even as he faces increasing pressure on his home front, Xi leads the government of the world’s largest police state. All of that solar power runs through a region dotted with forced labor camps.  

Which brings us back to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report:

“China’s Communist Party regime gives no sign of altering its policies, either at home or abroad. Beijing continues to reject cooperation with the United States on fundamental questions of national security, economics or trade. None of the flurry of visits and other diplomacy over the past year have resulted in any significant change of course by the regime. The result of high-level meetings between the United States and China has been merely the promise of further meetings—that is, of more talk, rather than concrete actions.”

The commission’s recommendations to Congress vis-à-vis China reflect this analysis. Among its recs:

1. Consider legislation establishing a framework for corporate disclosure requirements to increase transparency into publicly traded companies’ exposure to China;

2. Establish a “risk matrix framework” to evaluate security threats posed by electronic products imported from China; and

3. Enact legislation to address politically oppressive lawsuits initiated by the Chinese government or its proxies attempting to silence, intimidate, or impose significant litigation costs on parties for exercising protected rights through political engagement or other public participation.

This last rec is pertinent to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). In 2020, our office was sued by a Chinese manufacturing conglomerate BYD after we published allegations that it had ties to the Chinese state and had profited from forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. The lawsuit was rejected three times by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., then again by the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., and then again by the U.S. Supreme Court when BYD petitioned it for review. It took a lot of time and lawyering.  

Here’s what AAM President Scott Paul had to say regarding the report’s release:

This report underscores the need for strengthened and sustained efforts to counter the CCP’s economic influence in the United States even as our two nations seek to restore dialogue at the highest levels. Millions of American jobs and our nation’s security and economic stability are at stake.

Biden and Xi are scheduled to meet for four hours of talks Wednesday. While they’re holed up, you can read the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2023 report here.