The tit-for-tat between the two countries continues, but macho political posturing will not deal with the real issues
“It is easier to start a war than to end it,” Gabriel García Márquez once observed. This is true even when the skirmishes are fought over cotton hammocks, ornamental fish, motorboats and soya bean oil rather than territory. On Monday, Donald Trump ramped up his trade offensive by announcing that the US would impose new tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese imports – and another $267bn if Beijing made any attempt to retaliate. The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, crowed, prematurely, that China is “out of bullets”.
The metaphor was not an accident. Mr Trump is interested in the fight, not a deal. Billionaire Jack Ma’s forecast that the dispute could last 20 years was gloomy, but he was surely right that “if you want a short-term solution, there is no solution”. Even if they go ahead, bilateral talks mooted for this month are unlikely to make significant progress. Mr Trump would love to proclaim victory if the opportunity presented itself, but is counting on the chance to pose as the champion of the ordinary American, all the more so as political storms gather and the midterms approach. He can also count on increased antagonism to China across the political spectrum, prompted not only by its economic policies but also more generally by its growing might and the way it exercises that.