In his new book “No Trade Is Free: Changing Course, Taking on China, and Helping America’s Workers,” he recalled a meeting he attended in Beijing in November 2017, during which he told Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), that the U.S.-China trade relationship was unbalanced.
And from there, Mr. Lighthizer said he changed the tone of the trade talks that used to be rounds of vague commitments with no follow-ups on actions, which reset with each new U.S. administration.
“I was never interested in one of these things where the status quo favors the other side by definition,” he told The Epoch Times. “And as long as they can kick the can down the road, they’ll maintain that benefit, that preference, in many cases, that transfer of wealth.”
‘Net Transfer of Wealth’To Mr. Lighthizer, it's not a problem when a country runs a trade deficit with another over short-term periods. However, decades of deficit in the amount of hundreds of billions of dollars—as is the case of U.S. trade with China—is essentially a “net transfer of wealth,” he said.
“We are getting these T-shirts and our third and fourth televisions cheaper, but we’re paying for it by transferring assets of our country overseas,” he said in the interview.
He called it a “fool’s bargain”: “That’s a bad deal; that’s not a good deal. In many cases, it’s current consumption for a long-term loss of value.”
The Myth of Free TradeMr. Lighthizer thinks of free trade as a “false religion.”
“Nobody practices free trade. For sure, if you look at the great countries that run big surpluses, they don’t have free trade. In China, it’s not remotely close. It’s not even capitalism. Germany doesn’t have free trade. Europe doesn’t have free trade. It’s all just a false God, and it literally doesn’t exist,” he added.
According to him, China has plans for achieving global dominance and has capitalized on foreigners hungry to make money in the country.
“It’s China deciding, ‘I’m going to make you rich because it’s going to help me.’ Those people then become advocates for China. That’s more or less the trade-off,” he said.
Strategic Decoupling PlaybookThe United States needs to strategically decouple with China, “very much like the Chinese have towards us,” Mr. Lighthizer said.
“I think it’s a way of trying to do what is right, but still make all the very rich American companies who import from China happy. They are trying to kind of have it both ways,” the former trade official said.
Mr. Lighthizer's strategic decoupling playbook includes the following elements: achieving balanced trade, cutting off the flow of U.S. technology to China, and managing inbound and outbound investments.
To balance U.S.-China trade, Mr. Lighthizer said President Donald Trump's tariffs worked. Since the first tariffs were slapped in July 2018, the U.S. trade deficit with China decreased until 2020. His explanation for the trade deficit bounceback in 2021 was that the combination of demand stimulated by the U.S. government's pandemic relief packages and the shutdown of domestic manufacturing drove purchases from overseas.
While all countries do what's in their best interest in international trade, China's trade has a "sinister overlay" of technology theft, said Mr. Lighthizer. Combatting this, according to him, requires stopping the regime's forced technology transfer and managing the investment from and going to China, and would put an end to America's facilitation of the CCP's ambition of global dominance with technology or funds.