The smarter move for China might be to stand pat. Despite Xi’s boasts at Davos and elsewhere, the country’s record on free trade is dismal, a potential handicap if matters degenerate into a wider trade war. The better policy would be to let Trump raise costs for American consumers with ill-advised tariffs; refuse to retaliate; then pose as the innocent victim.
Governments in Washington’s sphere of influence, motivated by strategic investments in the likes of Deutsche Bank AG and Brazilian utility CPFL Energia SA and taken aback by Trump’s aggressive stance, may be persuaded to regard Beijing as the friendlier ally.
That would be the greater victory for a Chinese president without term limits and with a view to posterity: To subdue the enemy without fighting, as the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote, is the supreme art of war.