Alan Tonelson: China Won’t Abide by the Trade Deal No Matter How It's Translated

Alan Tonelson, founder of the economics and public policy website RealityChek, warned that China would not abide by the terms of any trade deal with the U.S. regardless of what is in the final Chinese language translation of the agreement.

Tonelson joined Tuesday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host John Binder ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled signing ceremony for the Phase One trade deal between the U.S. and China. At the time of the interview, the final text of the agreement in English or Chinese was not publicly available. 

“The last that I heard, which was in the late afternoon, they were still working on the translations,” said Tonelson. “Presumably, there is a treaty that is in final form or maybe still just close to it.”

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Mansour noted that the final Chinese language translation of the agreement “is of the upmost importance.” She cited the comments China expert Gordon Chang told Breitbart News Tonight on Monday about the challenges presented by having a dual-language agreement in both English and Chinese.

“Chinese as a language is not as precise as English,” Chang said. “English has one advantage over many languages in that it is designed for legal agreements. It is technical [and] precise. Chinese is not. I’m afraid that, effectively, the Chinese text will become the controlling document.”

Tonelson agreed with Mansour and Chang’s assessment but offered a caveat. 

“I would agree with you on the importance of translation,” Tonelson said. “But only in a narrow sense, because at least as far as I’m concerned, the most important thing to know about even the Trump phase of U.S.-China trade diplomacy is that the Chinese are not going to abide by anything that’s on paper, no matter how specifically phrased.”

China will leverage the impossibility of verifying its compliance with any trade deal’s conditions to its advantage, added Tonelson.

“It’s just not going to happen, and [the Chinese] are going to rely on the difficulty of figuring out what’s going on in their vast economy and their immense central government bureaucracy [and] the provincial government bureaucracies,” Tonelson remarked. “They’re going to rely on the impossibility of monitoring that to get away with wholesale violations, because I just cannot imagine that anything the Chinese sign will be remotely verifiable.”

Tonelson also agreed with Chang’s assessment that U.S. should be pursuing a policy of “decoupling” its economy from China; and to that end, the Phase One trade deal isn’t beneficial from a longterm strategic and economic perspective.

Tonelson said, “This is the time to keep kicking China while it’s down. The Chinese economy was growing at its slowest rate in decades. Its foreign trade balance has weakened tremendously. Its exports to the United States — by its own statistics, which … can be dodgy — fell by about 20 percent, last year.”

Tonelson noted that the Trump policy of “creating tremendous pressure on China was working to decouple” the two economies. “It had been achieving tremendous progress. China today is much less important to the U.S. economy than the day [Trump] was inaugurated.”

Echoing Chang’s calls for pursuing disconnection of the American and Chinese economies, Tonelson said, “Decoupling — making sure the U.S. economy has as little to do with China as is practically possible — has to be the overriding U.S. objective.”

Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot channel 125 weeknights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern or 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific.

Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.