That sowed the seeds of a profoundly unbalanced trade relationship. Just in the course of this decade (including the first five months of this year), China took out of its U.S. trade a net surplus of $2.1 trillion, and the Chinese sources now estimate that 40 percent of this American trade deficit is generated by U.S. companies with production facilities in China.
Meanwhile, America's entertainment and hospitality industries — the winners of our post-industrial economy — leave 14 million people out of work (or stable employment), with another 95 million out of the active civilian labor force, while the miserable 0.2 percent productivity gains have relegated the economy to 1.5 to 2.0 percent growth rates.
Apart from that human drama that we now have to deal with, it also sounds like the Chinese have difficulty finding anything interesting to buy in the U.S., other than pieces of real estate in California, Florida and Texas. Yes, they will relent to buy some meat, maybe some rice (if we keep it clean so it does not contaminate their rice fields), LNG and they will occasionally splurge on passenger aircraft.
And then the Chinese are complaining about American "trade discrimination." They are saying that their trade surplus with the U.S. would be cut by "24 to 34 percent" if Washington would "liberalize its export barriers against China to the same level as those applicable to Brazil or France." At issue is mainly Washington's refusal to allow sales to China of strategically sensitive dual-use technologies.
But the sad fact is that the Chinese are not even recycling in the U.S. (with interest) the dollars they get from exports to America. In the year to May, for example, China's net holdings of Treasury securities were cut down by $141.8 billion. Only one-third of that decline was offset by an estimated $45.6 billion in direct investment inflows from China last year.
That's hardly a "win-win" proposition for Washington in view of its $347 billion trade deficit with China in 2016, and another $138 billion in the first five months of this year.
A small consolation is that — unlike the German-led EU — China is responding to Washington's displeasure about its large trade surpluses with America: In the first five months of this year, U.S. exports to China soared at an annual rate of 17 percent. By comparison, we are getting nowhere with Germany. Over the same period, U.S. sales to the EU's largest economy are virtually flat.