, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Although I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much of former President Donald Trump’s China policies have been retained by President Biden (like the tariffs and tech-related sanctions and tighter export controls), two recent developments reveal how much room for improvement remains – on permitting Chinese entities to list on U.S. stock exchanges, and on those Trump tariffs.

Regarding the stock market issue, Washington incomprehensively keeps giving these entities (they shouldn’t be called “companies” or “businesses” becauuse they have nothing in common with organizations meriting those labels in largely free market economies) the kind of special treatment afforded to members of its stock exchanges from no other countries – including America itself.

Specifically, these Chinese entities continue to be able to raise vital capital in U.S. markets even though they haven’t yet been required to comply with the standards for opening their books fully that are mandatory for every single one of their domestic and foreign counterparts. Therefore, investors can’t make informed decisions, and regulators can’t discover much fraudulent activity.

It’s true that U.S. authorities have just struck a deal with Beijing that potentially gives them the access to Chinese records that they need. But that’s the problem. It’s still “potential.” And the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may still be bending over backwards to coddle China. Why else would it have agreed with its Chinese counterparts to keep the text of the deal secret? What devils lie in the always crucial details? Full disclosure here is especially important because of Beijing’s long record of violating signed agreements (see, e.g., here) and because the Chinese government’s statement describing its interpretation of its obligation differs significantly from Washington’s – which is virtually guaranteed to produce protracted further bickering.

This typical bobbing and weaving, in fact, raises the question of why the United States has engaged recently – or ever – in any negotiatons in the first place. After all, Washington has been seeking adequate access to the entities since 2007. China has resisted American demands by citing the important national security and other state secrets that unfettered audits might reveal. But as the SEC itself has pointed out (see the preceding link), more than fifty other countries have required their companies to turn over all records as a condition for listing. China clearly has the right to withhold any information it wishes. The U.S. response from the beginning should have been that if a Chinese entity’s operations are so critical to China’s national security, it doesn’t belong in the U.S. financial system, and able to win U.S. and other investment attracted by the Good Housekeeping seal provided by being listed,to begin with.

Washington’s position all along also should have been that there’s literally nothing to talk about. The United States should have declared listing to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for China, and that it will serve as judge, jury, and court of appeals (as it is in all cases). As of this past spring, America’s long failure to do so has permitted these entities to amass a market value of $1.3 trillion. And because all of them are always subject to all of Beijing’s whims, that means these valuable resources have been put at the disposal of the Chinese regime.

What to do now?  Ditch the diplomacy stuff and tell Beijing that unless each of its listed entities turn over to U.S. auditors every scrap of information demanded by date certain (meaning real soon), they all get kicked off Wall Street immediately.

When it comes to trade issues, the Biden administration’s mistake is much simpler – and easier to correct. The President deserves considerable praise for the September announcement that the Trump tariffs will be kept in place for the foreseeable future. But China’s predatory trade policies have not remained in place, and in at least one vital respect, have gotten worse – on the value of its currency, the yuan.

For many years, especially in the first decade and a half of this century, Beijing kept the value of the yuan versus the U.S. dollar artificially low. As known by RealityChek regulars, this practice gave goods made in China (including by offshoring-happy U.S.- and other foreign-owned multinational companies) big price advantages the world over for reasons having nothing to do with market forces. The result were equally artificial boosts to Chinese exports and artificial reductions of Chinese imports.

This year, China has doubled down (not literally!) on this tactic, depressing the yuan’s value versus the greenback by fully nine percent. So the American response should be obvious: The tariffs on each of the roughly $370 billion worth of Chinese goods intended each year for the U.S. market should be raised by nine percent also. And each future Beijing move to devalues the yuan another one percent or more should be matched by another equivalent U.S. tariff hike.

This American retaliation isn’t likely to fuel inflation at home, because of falling U.S. demand due to a slowing economy and a shift in consumer spending to services. So importing U.S. companies won’t have the pricing power to pass on their higher costs. But it will put further pressure on a Chinese economy whose other growth engines (like the real estate sector and the domestic consumer market) are faltering mainly because of the deflation of a ginormous Chinese housing bubble and dictator Xi Jinping’s politically inspired crackdown on his own tech companies and his over-the-top Zero Covid policies.

P.S. If China starts strengthening the yuan again, I wouldn’t lower the tariffs in response. For the aim of U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic now can’t afford to be an indulgence like fairness, but weakening this increasingly hostile and dangerous government, and maximum U.S. economic disengagement (often called “decoupling”). But I’d be amenable to some easing of economic pressure and decoupling if I saw major evidence of big, concrete improvements in Beijing’s economic and military policies – say over a five- or ten-year period for starters.