To me the US – China trade dispute is not really that much about trade, tariffs or technology. What I would call T3.  

It’s about changing the rules of the game, global relations. In particular, it’s about President Trump’s innate desire to destroy almost everything that preceded him –– alliances, trade flows, global norms and multilateral institutions, Not sure why. But that’s his psychology and method of operating as to everything. Creating havoc. Period.  

In terms of formulating a US trade policy. It would be most effective for the Trump administration (those officials that actually have some real control over policies and who have a minimum sense of diplomatic history, international relations, international economics and international law) to actually utilize the WTO’s dispute resolution system to address real issues.  

This would help channel US-China trade disputes into an international mechanism that can actually assist in resolving real issues. And away from very real and dangerous conflicts and military confrontations.  

The WTO dispute resolution system has a good track history of diplomatic and legal settlement of concrete disputes. It has precluded these disputes from escalating out of control. After all this global system was the American intent behind being the principal architect of the post-war system and the WTO’s dispute resolution system.  

This American policy of fostering an international judicial mechanism reflects the core American belief in a rules-based system and the American values of relying upon a fair judicial determination of conflicts. Not reliance on unilateral actions, raw power politics, the law of the jungle, or bluster and threats.

About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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