China was admitted into the World Trade Organization in 2001 with the understanding that they would participate in free trade and to international norms.
Until the 1970s, China’s economy was managed by the communist government and was kept closed from other economies. Together with political reforms, China in the early 1980s began to open its economy and signed a number of regional trade agreements. China gained observer status with GATT and from 1986, began working towards joining that organization. China aimed to be included as a WTO founding member (which would validate it as a world economic power) but this attempt was thwarted because the United States, European countries, and Japan requested that China first reform various tariff policies, including tariff reductions, open markets and industrial policies.
That has not happened. China has followed a mercantilist trade policy, stealing intellectual property, requiring companies selling to the Chinese to share ownership with often corrupt entities owned by the Peoples Liberation Army and relatives of regime principals.
Mercantilism is a policy that is designed to maximize the exports and minimize the imports for an economy. It promotes imperialism, tariffs and subsidies on traded goods to achieve that goal. These policies aim to reduce a possible current account deficit or reach a current account surplus. Mercantilism includes an economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially of finished goods. Historically, such policies frequently led to war and also motivated colonial expansion. Mercantilist theory varies in sophistication from one writer to another and has evolved over time.
America has been largely passive in tolerating this behavior until Donald Trump became president. Some of this passivity may reflect Chinese influence with US politicians.
While it may seem politics as usual in Washington today, some are alarmed.
“Nobody in the 1980s would have represented the Russian government. And now you find so many lobbying for the Chinese government,” said Frank Wolf, a retired U.S. representative from Virginia who long served as the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “I served in Congress for 34 years. I find it shocking.”