2 Takes on Why China 'Wins' a Trade War with America

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/29/2016 05:21:00 PM
The premise of Donald Trump's China-bashing rhetoric is that the United States still holds all the good [trump?] cards in the global economy. As such, it can pretty much do as it pleases to serve its own interests. Because of lackluster leadership by others, however, the United States has allowed others to take advantage of it time and again. So, Trump proposes to slap tariffs of up to 40-some percent on Chinese made products to level the playing field.

[1] But what if the premise is wrong? Winter Nie of the famed IMD business school not only argues that China holds the better cards--it has more export markets aside from the United States to approach, but American firms that have invested in PRC-based supply chains will be hurt more than the other way around:
A trade war would be problematic, but it would not be a disaster for China, mainly because the U.S. needs China more than vice versa. Twenty years ago, the situation might have been different. China was dramatically underdeveloped, and it wanted access to Western technology and manufacturing techniques. China has most of what it needs now, and what it doesn’t have it can easily obtain from vendors outside the U.S. While the American market looked enticing a few decades ago, it is relatively mature, and today the newer emerging market countries have become much more interesting to Beijing.

Although a good deal of American high tech equipment is manufactured in China, the lion’s share of the profits go to the American companies that designed the equipment. If that were to stop, American companies would be hurt more than Chinese manufacturers.
What's more, market access to 1.4 billion Chinese consumers makes it crucial for American firms to have access to:
The fastest growing markets for the best items China produces, like laptop computers and cell phones, are in developing regions such as India, Latin America, and Africa. In contrast, China itself is a market that the U.S. can hardly ignore. By the end of 2015, Chinese consumers bought 131 million iPhones. The total sales to U.S. customers during the same period stood at only 110 million. And iPhones are only a small part of U.S. exports. Boeing, which employs 150,000 workers in the U.S., estimates that China will buy some 6,810 airplanes over the next 20 years, and that market alone will be worth more than $1 trillion.

Were Trump to start a trade war, the most immediate effects would probably be felt by companies like Walmart, which import billions of dollars of cheap goods. The prices on almost all of these items would quickly skyrocket beyond the reach of the lower economic brackets—not because of manufacturing costs, but because of the tariffs. The result would be an economic war of attrition that China is infinitely better positioned to win.
CUHK professor James Wang also argues that China wins, largely elaborating on holding out in an economic war of attrition. With a centralized economic apparatus able to tap into state resources, China may be better placed to weather the fallout from a trade war compared to the anarchic US government system and its freewheeling enterprises. The latter's lack of coordination will lead to crying uncle sooner:
China would outlast the U.S. in a trade war, which is a “distinct possibility” next year after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, a commentator wrote in the $1 billion Pine River China Fund’s investor letter.

China’s government would be better placed than the U.S. to marshal state resources to cushion the impact on exporters, wrote James Wang, a City University of Hong Kong professor who pens a monthly commentary for the fund. Privately-owned Chinese exporters would be worse hit than state-controlled peers because they have less political clout in Beijing, he said.

“By design, decision-makers in a democracy face difficulties coordinating a relief effort and must eventually face a political backlash from impacted domestic producers,” Wang wrote. “On this basis, the Chinese may have more runway to play the long game in a trade war.”
It's not so much that China "wins" then, but it loses less.