Opinion: U.S. trade shouldn’t be just about the Benjamins

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I’ve watched with interest the twists and turns of the U.S.-China trade war.

Reportedly, the two nations have made significant progress in sketching out a series of memorandums of understanding on forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade.

At the core all these issues have one thing in common – money.  In a nutshell: How will the China U.S. trade pie and associated issues be financially sliced and diced?

That’s fine as far as it goes, but making U.S. trade with China about the Benjamins is a massively lost opportunity to deal with the nuclear threat that is North Korea.  Let’s be brutally honest. North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un thinks his regimes survival hinges on North Korea developing long range nuclear weapons. Meanwhile,denuclearization is the only real priority for the United States.

The United Nations and U.S. has tried to sanction North Korea into denuclearization but their effectiveness has been blunted by Russia who seemingly doesn’t mind selling oil and coal to Kim.

Strategically the U.S. should demand as part of trade resolution with China that the People’s Republic live up to the letter of sanctions on North Korea rather than, like Russia, slipping North Korea goods under the radar.

One thing is obvious.  China’s willingness to stringently enforce sanctions rests not on an abiding commitment but rather calculations of People’s Republic Of China national security interests. But is it possible that a  U.S. carrot-and-stick approach with China could help the Americans with North Korea?

At the moment, the end game for Washington’s trade negotiations with China essentially would give the U.S. control over the Chinese economy.  That’s something Beijing would never accept.

So what trade deal will the Chinese approve?  And can the U.S. sell the Chinese on a North Korean component?  How this round of negotiations ends up is anybody’s guess. But if The Hill is to be believed we’re going to find out real soon.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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