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One of the most troubling features of the growing tensions between China and the United States is that both countries legitimately have a lot to complain about, and typically they are the same things. Three issues are particularly conspicuous at present and at the core of difficulties in the trade relationship – the definitions and status of “market” and “non-market” economies; the role of governments as owners of strategic economic sectors and retaliation over grievances arising from that role; and cyberattacks. When China and the United States criticize each other, they often are launching their complaints from inside glass houses, fortifications especially vulnerable to retaliation.

Market Economies

Almost every member of the World Trade Organization, and even countries (such as Russia) that are not, for international trade purposes are considered “market economies.” The designation is important because the rules of fair trade are written to promote markets, rewarding market transactions and penalizing conduct judged to distort markets. The distinctions emerged at the dawn of the Cold War when the rules enabling private enterprise to compete with state-directed economies were written.

State economic interventions, according to world trade rules, distort markets. State-directed economies – “non-market economies” (“NMEs”) – are inherently distorting. World trade rules deal with them through exclusion, denying them entitlement to the benefits of favorable assumptions.

Although China agreed, when it acceded to membership in the WTO in 2001, that it was not yet accepted as a market economy, it did not expect such recognition to be far behind. Now, nearly a decade later, it seems nowhere in sight, and largely because of objections raised by the United States.

The United States sees too much state direction in the Chinese economy. National plans are reinforced by regional and local planning. State-owned enterprises are dominant, particularly in the most important sectors of steel and energy production. State-owned banks control most lending. Tax schemes systematically favor designated sectors. Utilities providing manufacturers with energy are state-owned. There is no private ownership of land. And today, most important of all, currency is tied to the dollar and does not trade freely in international markets.

China does not see its economy this way. State enterprises are enterprises whose profits go to all shareholders, who are the people of China and not small investing bands of capitalists. They are controlled by boards with mandates to operate competitive, profitable businesses. Banks, controlled by the state, protect the state’s interests, and thus avoid reckless and feckless lending that can jeopardize whole economies. Labor is mobile and subject to competition. Land tenures in Britain, and some other Commonwealth countries, are based on the theory that the Crown owns all of the land, but thriving markets in land tenures exist. No one claims that the Crown’s ownership of all of the land in these countries suggests they are not market economies. The dollar began to float freely and trade on international exchanges less than forty years ago, and no one suggests that prior to the collapse of Bretton Woods the United States was not a market economy. In China’s view, all the people of China are the shareholders of the economy at large, but no less capitalistic in their support of competition and free enterprise. Most observers of China today remark on the Chinese worship of money, no less than in traditional capitalist societies.

The American indictment of China as an NME is defended now from inside a glass house. After the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the federal government in the United States took large ownership positions in many key banks. The government took effective ownership of the automobile industry. The Congress of the United States endlessly writes tax laws to favor one industry or another, especially the larger ones dependent on exports. Property is private, but government institutions set the terms of ownership and all of the financing that makes ownership possible. And the government in the United States intervenes in the economy regularly to create and save jobs, regulating the labor market, encouraging companies to hire labor and discouraging dismissals.

Neither China nor the United States is an ideal market economy. The distinctions might not matter practically, representing different paths to the acquisition and distribution of the benefits of commerce, except that they do in the application of trade laws. China thinks itself stigmatized by its designation as an NME, and it is disadvantaged in international trade.

Until 2006 there was at least a trade-off. Trade law, as applied everywhere, recognized that state intervention in the economy could not be market-distorting if there were no market. Consequently, trade remedy actions based on subsidy allegations could not be initiated, both because there was no way to measure a subsidy in the absence of market prices, and because a subsidy by definition must distort a market and in an NME there is no market to distort.

In late 2006, the United States began to have things both ways. It said China was enough of a market economy to justify bringing subsidy cases against its exports, yet not enough to shed its designation as an NME.  Ever since, China has been manifestly subject to a deliberately unfair trade regime. Yet, when China takes exception, it does so from within its own glass house, and not only because of the conditions that shaped American views in the first place.

Even as China began in 2006 to defend its practices in the United States, its conduct tended to reinforce the indictment instead of refuting it. Instead of acknowledging that it had little control over regional and local governments, their “planning” or their commercial practices, the central government, citing to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, asserted that all governments reported to it.  Instead of acknowledging difficulty in amassing information demanded by U.S. authorities in trade investigations, it tried to answer questions without verifiable information. Instead of leaving private enterprises in China to find counsel and defend their own interests, the government convened supposedly independent chambers of commerce and largely directed the management of China’s legal defenses. It relied principally on the advice of Chinese lawyers with very limited knowledge of U.S. law. All these actions tended to convince American investigators that China is state-run and not ready to be considered a market economy.

As a practical matter, this issue has lost most of its importance. U.S. authorities have developed methodologies that would reach the same conclusions about fair trade even were China now recognized as a market economy. But symbolically this issue remains critical.

China’s Retaliation: Mutual Accusations Of Subsidies

Exhausted, perhaps, by the apparent futility in its claim that it should be recognized as a market economy, China has adopted an alternative strategy, accusing the United States of similar market deficiencies. China now formally accuses American exports of being subsidized in an economic system marked by substantial state involvement.

China does not deny that the development of its automobile industry has been heavily subsidized. Instead, China argues that it has graduated from subsidization. This view, however, neglects the history of international trade disputes centered on the privatization of state enterprises that followed on the collapse of Communist regimes. The United States accused all such enterprises, especially in the steel industry, of continuing long-term benefits, arguing that privatization could not extinguish the value of subsidies unless the sale of the state enterprise took place at a full market price. The United States placed the burden of proof that no subsidies passed through from the state to the private enterprise on the foreign private enterprise, a burden virtually impossible to bear because of inadequate documentation.

China, perhaps preemptively, has accused the U.S. automobile industry of exporting subsidized vehicles to China. As we discussed on December 1, 2009 on this blog, the countervailing duty investigation launched in November 2009 arises from a petition that argues the American automobile industry is in historic decline and survives only due to massive government subsidization. The central problem of these accusations, however, is that they are hurled from a glass house. The United States will now almost certainly accuse China of subsidizing the automobiles China is gearing up to sell to the United States. Hence, while the industries in both countries are trying to develop fuel efficient automobiles that will eliminate carbon emissions, thereby serving mutual objectives related to saving the planet, trade laws in both countries already are impeding direct competition based on the quality of the product.

China’s action, contending that the United States does not produce automobiles through free market enterprise, is a transparent retaliation for the American insistence that China is a non-market economy. However, this action carries the disagreement forward into the terrain of the future, where China and the United States need most to cooperate.

Cyberattacks

The United States has complained for a long time that China has subjected American defense and security establishments to incessant and invasive cyberattacks. These complaints took on a new character and dimension when Google complained that a coordinated Chinese assault on Google customers included an invasion of the accounts of Chinese dissidents. Google, already criticized for accepting Chinese government censorship that affects the internet in no other country, found the latest attacks intolerable. Google threatened to leave China.

The Google-China confrontation led Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deliver a major speech on “internet freedom” that called for international condemnation of China.  Jack Goldsmith, Harvard Law School professor and former senior Justice Department official in the Bush Administration, responded quickly in The Washington Post: “[T]he problem with Clinton’s call for accountability and norms on the global network,” Goldsmith wrote, “is the enormous array of cyberattacks originating from the United States. Until we acknowledge these attacks and signal how we might control them, we cannot make progress on preventing cyberattacks emanating from other countries.”

The cyberattacks from China are presumed to be state-directed because of the state control and censorship of the internet imposed on companies such as Google. Attacks from the United States are presumed, at least by Americans, to be the work of private individuals, free-lancers, the sort of people who fill e-mail boxes incessantly with spam. Goldsmith accepts this orthodoxy, noting that “Scores of individuals and groups in the United States design or employ computer payloads to attack government Web sites, computer systems and censoring tools in Iran and China. These efforts are often supported by U.S. foundations and universities, and by the federal government. Clinton boasted about this support seven paragraphs after complaining about cyberattacks.”

Boarding Up The Glass Houses

China surely knows at least as much about what is happening in its cyber sphere as Professor Goldsmith. The American complaint about Chinese interference with the internet appears well-founded, as is the American complaint about China’s control of its economy and China’s subsidization of industry. But each of these complaints is launched from a glass house. Until China and the United States acknowledge mutually the problem – that their legitimate reciprocal complaints need more solution than aggravation – such complaints will compound and multiply, and the two countries will grow further apart and more antagonistic. They must either appreciate the view that glass houses uniquely afford – a place from which one can see out very well, but others can also see in — stop throwing things at each other from inside the glass houses, or board them up. The last choice, which may define the direction in which things are going, is probably the worst of all.

        中美间的紧张关系令人担忧,其中一个特点是合情合理两国都有许多可以抱怨的事件,虽然这些事件大同小异。其中三大事件最引人注目,也是贸易关系的重点——“市场”和“非市场经济”的定义以及地位;政府作为所有者在战略经济领域扮演的角色,以及针对这一角色采取的报复行动;网络骇客。当中美互相指责对方时,他们都是站在玻璃房子中向对方发起攻击,使得自己在报复措施面前显得软弱无力。(美国有句俗语:住在玻璃房子里的人不向邻居扔石头。)

市场经济体

        几乎所有的世贸组织成员,包括俄罗斯等非市场经济国家,都在国际贸易领域被授予“市场经济”地位。这一地位很重要因为公平贸易法则旨在促进市场经济、奖励市场经济转型、惩罚扭曲市场的行为。市场经济、非市场经济的区分在冷战初期形成,这些法则旨在帮助私营经济和政府指令经济竞争。

        根据国际贸易法则,政府经济干预扭曲市场。政府指令经济——“非市场经济”生来就具有扭曲市场的特性。国际贸易法规将它们排除在外,拒绝给予它们有利的假设条件

        虽然当中国在2001年加入世贸组织时同意暂时不被认可为市场经济体,但她没有料到将迟迟得不到认可。迄今为止,将近十年过去了,这一地位仍不着边际,这主要是因为美国反对。

        美国认为政府指令在中国经济发展中扮演过于重要的角色。省及地方五年计划进一步强化了国家计划。国有企业占主导地位,尤其在钢铁、能源等最重要的领域。税收政策向某些产业倾斜。向生产商提供能源的是国有企业。土地亦非私有。最重要的是人民币汇率紧跟美元,在国际市场上不能自由兑换。

        但中国却不这么认为。国有企业是把利润分配给所有持股人的企业,而这些持股人正是所有中国公民而不是少数资本家。董事会掌控这些国有企业,而且这些企业旨在竞争、获得利润。国家控制的银行旨在确保国家利益,因而避免冲动、不营利且甚至可能威胁国家经济发展的贷款。就业人口是流动的,而且面临竞争。在英国等英联邦国家,皇室拥有土地,但是土地使用权市场仍蓬勃发展。美元直至四十年前才开始自由兑换,然而在布莱顿森林体系倒塌前,并没有人否认美国的市场经济地位。在中国眼里,所有中国公民都是中国经济的股东,这并不影响他们支持企业间自由竞争。许多观察家认为当前中国和传统资本主义国家一样崇尚金钱。

        美国像站在玻璃房子中辩护针对中国非市场经济运营的指控。2008年雷曼兄弟公司倒闭之后,美国联邦政府在几大银行中拥有很多股权。政府同时掌控了汽车行业。美国国会不断修改税法给予某些行业特别优惠,尤其是较依赖出口的行业。虽然财产私有,但是政府机构决定所有权条款并提供资金。同时美国政府定期干预经济以增加、保证就业机会,管理就业市场,鼓励企业增加就业机会、减少裁员。

        中美两国都不是理想的市场经济体。在实际操作中这些区别并不重要,仅代表获得所有权的不同途径、以及利益分配的不同方式,但是在贸易法中却有重要意义。中国认为她因非市场经济地位在国际贸易中处于劣势。

         2006年以前,中国至少获得些补偿。世界各国贸易法都认定如果市场不存在,那么政府对经济的干预也不能扭曲市场。也不能对非市场经济体展开反补贴调查,因为如果没有市场价格就没有办法衡量补贴;同时根据定义,补贴必须扭曲市场,而在非市场经济体中没有市场可以扭曲

         2006年下半年,美国对中国采取了双重措施。美国认为中国的市场经济发展到一定地位,因此可对中国展开反补贴调查,但还不足以摆脱非市场经济地位。从此,中国明显受制于不公平贸易体系。然而当中国采取特例时,她也在玻璃房中采取行动。

         当中国从2006年开始在美国为自己辩护时,她采取的行动非但没有削弱,反而加强指控。中国应当指出中央对地方政府的“计划”和商业行为没有太多控制,但是中国中央政府引用宪法坚持声称地方政府都向其汇报。中国不愿承认收集美国政府在贸易调查中索取的信息有很大难度,相反在没有确切信息的情况下仍试图回答问题。她不是让私营企业寻找律师捍卫自己的利益,相反中央政府集合了应当是独立的进出口商会、主导法律抗争行动。她主要依赖那些对美国法律仅有局限了解的中国律师的建议。这些行动都是美国调查机构认为中国是政府主导的经济体,还不应被授予市场经济地位。

        在实际操作领域,这一问题已经失去了它的重要性。即使中国获得市场经济地位,美国政府已经建立的计算方法仍将使中国面临同样不利的情况。但形式上,这一问题仍很重要。

中国的报复:相互指责不正当补贴

        也许中国看到争取市场经济地位无果而深感失望,她采取了另一战略——指责美国同样缺少市场机制。中国现在指控美国出口品也享受补助,且政府在美国经济中扮演重要角色。

        中国并不否认她为汽车工业的发展提供很多补助。相反,她认为自己已经走出这一阶段了。但是这一观点忽略了历史上国际贸易关注共产主义国家解体国有企业私有化进程。美国指控这些企业,尤其是钢铁企业,长期受益于补助。如果在私有化进程中国有企业不是完全按市场价格出售,那么这一进程不能消除补贴带来的利益。美国把提供证据证明政府没有向私营企业提供补助的重任落在外国企业肩上;但是国外企业因无法搜集足够证据,所以无法承担这一重任。

        中国在时机尚未成熟的情况下,指控美国汽车产业向中国出口享受补助的车辆。在我们2009年12月10日刊登的搏客中,2009年11月中国展开的这一反补贴调查起源于一份认定美国汽车工业正在走下坡路、完全依靠强大政府补助支撑的调查申请书。这些指控的核心弊病是它们都是玻璃房子的产品。美国一定会指控中国出口到美国的汽车享受政府补助。因此,当两国汽车生产商都在努力发展节能汽车以减少二氧化碳排放的同时,两国贸易法却阻碍建立在产品质量上的竞争。

        中国指控美国汽车不是由自由市场企业生产的行动显然是对美国拒绝授予中国市场经济地位的报复。但是,这一行动将对未来造成负面影响,虽然两国将需要互相帮助。

网络攻击

         长期以来,美国指责中国不断对美国国防、安全设施发起进攻性网络袭击。当谷歌公司声称它的客户受到有组织的中国袭击时,包括中国籍持不同政见者的账户,这些指责又蒙上新含义。虽然谷歌已经同意接受中国政府的审查(这并不影响谷歌在其他国家的运营),但是最近的这些袭击让谷歌忍无可忍。谷歌威胁将离开中国。

         谷歌和中国的冲突引发了国务卿克林顿的介入,她在“网络自由”的演讲中呼吁全世界谴责中国。哈佛法学院教授、布什总统任期内的司法部官员Jack Goldsmith迅速在《华盛顿邮报》做出回应:“克林顿呼吁网络世界的诚信和法规面临挑战,因为美国是众多网络袭击的发源地。在我们承认这些袭击并以实际行动控制这些袭击之前,我们不能在阻止发源于其他国家的网络袭击方面实现重大突破。”

        因为中国政府的控制和审查,舆论认为中国政府操纵着针对谷歌等起源于中国的网络袭击。而起源美国的袭击却被认为是个人、自由职业者发动的袭击,至少美国人这样认为。Goldsmith接受这一传统观点,并进一步指出:“美国的个人及有组织的网络袭击对象是中国和伊朗政府网站、电脑系统以及审查机器。这些袭击得到美国大学、基金会以及联邦政府的支持。仅在克林顿抱怨中国的骇客行为后七个段落,她又开始称赞美国骇客的行动。”

掩护玻璃房子

        中国显然比Goldsmith教授更清楚她的网络世界运行情况。美国对中国骇客袭击的控诉看起来振振有词,就像她对中国政府操纵经济运行、补贴企业的指控一样。但是这些指控都来自玻璃房子内。只有当中美双方都承认弊病——她们正当合理的抱怨需要解决途径,而不是使局势紧张化——这些抱怨只会使两国间的距离越来越远。她们或是应当理解对方在玻璃房子中发表的观点——发表观点的人可以清楚地看到外界,外界也可清楚地看到发表观点的人——停止向对方扔东西,或是掩护各自的玻璃房子。后者可能是两国关系发展的趋势,但却是下下策。