The vote on H.R. 2378, which would authorize punitive tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States -- which includes everything from clothing, furniture, and toys to refrigerators, computers, and sporting goods -- was a lopsided 348 to 79. It was accompanied by equally unbalanced congressional rhetoric. "They cheat to steal our jobs," fumed Mike Rogers of Michigan, while California's Dana Rohrabacher denounced the Chinese as a "clique of gangsters."
From the Senate, where similar legislation is pending, came equally hostile words. "This suckers' game is never going to stop unless we call their bluff," seethed Charles Schumer of New York. There was trade-war drum-beating on the sidelines, too. The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, cheered the "long-overdue" move against China's government, which he likened to "a schoolyard bully." Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, hailed the vote as evidence that US policymakers would no longer be so "incredibly, infuriatingly passive in the face of China's bad behavior."
But what exactly is so awful about selling good stuff cheap to tens of millions of US consumers?
China's communist regime is no paragon of enlightened governance. It criminalizes dissent, represses religious and ethnic minorities, and severely restricts the civil rights and political liberties of its citizens. Particularly brutal have been its occupation of Tibet and its vicious treatment of those who follow Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement. There is no shortage of legitimate and urgent reasons to condemn Beijing's behavior. Keeping the price of Chinese exports low isn't one of them.