Port: Is it back to business as usual with China?

I had hoped that Trump's trade war with China might be the beginning of something new. An era where China's abuses and malfeasance mattered as much as how many widgets we could sell them.

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — With President Donald Trump's administration announcing the beginning of a new trade deal with China — they're calling this "phase 1" — political officials in our region have been elated.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said he was "grateful" to the Trump administration for getting the deal done. Sen. John Hoeven called it "very important for our farmers and ranchers," while Sen. Kevin Cramer described it as a "major victory."

The reactions are understandable. Trump kicked off a high-stakes trade war with China in the middle of the 2018 election cycle. Republicans, like Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, were forced to campaign amid heavy anxieties from agriculture producers and manufacturers, with Democrats gleefully stoking those fears.

I suppose Republicans are now feeling some vindication, but the markets, at least so far, aren't quite so optimistic.

"Prices fell for most raw materials that are part of the agreement," Bloomberg is reporting as I write this.


The agreement calls for China to buy $95 billion worth of materials from the United States, but the marketplace doesn't seem to believe it; otherwise, the prices for those goods would be going up.

Maybe the market will be persuaded.

Maybe China will follow through.

The problem is, a year or so ago, when Republicans were defending Trump's trade war, they were quick to point to China's horrendous track record when it comes to honoring international agreements.

Even Democrats acknowledged it.

Are we now to believe that the Communist, authoritarian Chinese regime can be trusted because Trump cut a new deal with them?

How long until China is reneging on this deal, just as they have with others?

Maybe you believe that things with Trump are different. That he's got the Chinese by the nose, and they won't dare cross him. But Trump is currently impeached, and while the Republican-controlled Senate isn't likely to remove him from office, he does have to campaign in 2020 with that hanging over his head.


Which is to say, he may not win re-election, and the Chinese may think they can placate Trump now and wait him out. Even if Trump wins re-election, he only gets another four years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gets to hold that office for the rest of his life . One of the perks of being essentially a dictator, I suppose.

It feels like Trump and Republicans are missing an opportunity. China has long used its economic clout as a shield against any serious consequences for sins ranging from broken treaties to severe human rights violations. Even as the Chinese regime violently suppressed Hong Kong's protesters , most American political interests were more worried about soybean prices.

When an NBA team official posted a relatively benign tweet supporting the Hong Kong protesters , he faced backlash for putting the NBA's business interests in China at risk by supporting pro-democracy demonstrations.

Are those the priorities we want when it comes to China?

I had hoped that Trump's trade war with China might be the beginning of something new. An era where China's abuses and malfeasance mattered as much as how many widgets we could sell them.

Apparently not. It's back to business as usual, and while the politicians and the Chamber of Commerce crowd may be cheering, our dealings with China need to start being about more than trade.

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Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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