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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has produced a genuinely strange – and potentially crucial – turn in the way American leaders and the political class of pundits and think tankers and the rest of the countrys influential chattering class are viewing and even conducting China policy. Because China could in theory significantly help Vladimir Putin’s never-impressive economy evade the full impact of global sanctions, they’re not only talking of only punishing the People’s Republic if it follows this course. They’re exuding confidence that Beijing could be cowed into backing down.

In other words, the conventional wisdom throughout the U.S. foreign policy,  economic policy, and media establishments now holds that Washington can bend China to its will because the Chinese ultimately need the United States much more economically than vice versa. Because this position looks like such a total reversal of what these folks insisted during the trade war supposedly started by Donald Trump with China, it raises these questions: If America’s leverage is great enough to change Chinese behavior that would mainly threaten another country’s security, isn’t it also great enough to change Chinese behavior that for decades has increasingly damaged America’s own economy, and also to pursue decoupling from the Chinese economy more energetically?

The Biden administration certainly is acting like it holds all the cards over China on anti-Russia sanctions. As a “senior administration official” told reporters in an – official – White House briefing last Friday, the President in his virtual meeting with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping that morning “made clear the implication and consequences of China providing material support — if China were to provide material support — to Russia as it prosecutes its brutal war in Ukraine, not just for China’s relationship with the United States but for the wider world.”

The day before, previewing the Biden-Xi call, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said  “President Biden will be speaking to President Xi tomorrow and will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

And the national policy establishments are giving these statements their Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. According to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who emerged as the Mainstream Media’s go-to critic of the Trump trade wars, “On the pure economic question, if China were to have to make the choice – Russia versus everyone else – I mean, it’s a no-brainer for China because it’s so integrated with all of these Western economies,”

His views, moreover, came in a Reuters article whose main thrust was “China’s economic interests remain heavily skewed to Western democracies….”

A Bloomberg.com analysis posted a week ago similarly asserted that China “needs good relations with the U.S. and its partners to meet its economic goals, particularly as growth slows to the slowest pace in in more than three decades.”

And although that point was keyed to the current state of China’s economic health – as opposed to the situation during the Trump years, the article also noted that Beijing has “resisted taking retaliatory measures that would hurt its own economy even when the U.S. has directly targeted Beijing. During the height of the trade war, China threatened but never implemented an ‘unreliable entities’ list, and even state-run banks have complied with U.S. sanctions on Hong Kong. It also delayed imposing an anti-sanctions law on the financial hub after businesses expressed concern.”

In all, it’s a stark contrast with the days during that Trump period when the Mainstream Media – relying heavily on analysts like Bown, who work for think tanks heavily funded by Offshoring Lobby interests – routinely ran stories headlined “Why the US would never win a trade war with China.”

Now sharp-eyed readers will notice one big difference between then and now: The Trump China and other tariffs were unilateral. It’s assumed – quite reasonably – that any Biden China sanctions would be undertaken jointly, along with many and possibly most other major national economies.

At the same time, no less than Peterson Institute President Adam Posen has just written in (no less than) Foreign Affairs that it’s the strength of the West’s financial services industries that “are what has truly advantaged the West over Russia in implementing effective sanctions, and what has deterred Chinese businesses from bailing Russia out.”

But these advantages are overwhelmingly the product of the dollar’s reserve currency status and the dominance of U.S. finance in that dominant Western finance sector. So even he’s indirectly admitted that U.S. power specifically has been the key. As a result, wielding the finance cudgel could have pushed the Europeans and Japanese to join in with the Trump China tariffs.

Some other consequential conclusions could flow from this new confidence about China. Maybe even without putting other big economies in the finance cross-hairs, Trump should have threatened – and if need be, imposed – the same kinds of financial sanctions on China instead of tariffs to try to force Beijing to end its predatory trade practices, and/or to press China to accept more U.S. imports. Or maybe a combination of the two would have been best. Maybe President Biden should add the finance sanctions to his decision to maintain most of the Trump tariffs. And if the United States enjoys this kind of leverage over China, wouldn’t the same hold for other troublesome trade partners, even big economies?

But perhaps the most convincing signs of the U.S.’ paramount leverage are coming from China itself. Last Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi asserted that Beijing would “safeguard its legitimate rights and interests” if hit by punitive U.S. and broader measures. But this language was pretty vague – and he also expressed China’s hope that it would avoid these sanctions to begin with. Moreover, yesterday, Beijing’s ambassador to Washington Qin Gang made clear that Beijing had rejected the option of sending Russia military aid – though he added that China would maintain its “normal trade, economic, financial, energy cooperation with Russia.”

Moreover, there’s no need to go all-in on the tariff, or other China specific sanctions (e.g., on tech entities) fronts yet.  Especially since China is facing mounting economic troubles at home (notably in its gigantic and thoroughly bubble-ized real estate sector) a string of increasingly aggressive “poke the dragon” measures could yield lots of useful information about how Beijing perceives its vulnerabilities without risking noteworthy countermeasures – and about the real extent of America’s capacity to deal with the China challenge.