There is also a broader reason why a trade war with the U.S. hurts China, and this gets to an important point with trade agreements more generally. A U.S. trade agreement with China would (if enforceable) certify China as a place where foreigners can invest and be protected against espionage, intellectual property theft and unfair legal treatment. That prospect of certification is now suspended. That makes investing in China less desirable for many multinationals, not just U.S. ones. That, in turn, limits Chinese domestic wages as well as long-term learning and technology transfer. A U.S. certification of China might even boost Chinese domestic investment, but again that is now off the table.
In my numerous visits to China, I’ve found that the Chinese think of themselves as much more vulnerable than Americans to a trade war. I think they are basically correct, mostly because China is a much poorer country with more fragile political institutions.
And finally: My argument isn’t about whether Trump’s policy toward China is correct. I am only trying to get the basic economics straight. Next time you hear that the costs of the trade war are simply being borne by Americans, be suspicious.