Washington's apparent shift of emphasis from its unassailable trade argument to an uncertain legal battle about China's foreign trade policies and practices looks like an own goal.
Upon reflection, Washington could soon recover. Some own goals during the recent World Cup ultimately led to a win.
By its size and complexity, the trade deficit with China is, arguably, one of the most acute problems ever encountered in American economic history. Its solution requires a bilateral agreement to rapidly and drastically narrow that trade gap — which stands at hundreds of billions of dollars.
But linking trade with a wide web of U.S.-China political and security issues should be vigorously resisted.
Indeed, attempts to place an unwinnable trade dispute with the U.S. in a broader geopolitical context is a road to nowhere.
There is no meaningful constituency to support China's systematic — and growing — trade surpluses with the U.S. And there is no way that Washington's efforts to stop that can be construed as a destruction of the multilateral trading system. Given a hopelessly unbalanced world economy, that multilateral system is just a pious wish.