Whether China is a “developing” or a “developed” country for the purposes of the World Trade Organization matters a lot to the US President.
President Donald Trump ignited a new front in the US-China trade war in July by tweeting that the world’s richest nations were masquerading as developing countries to get special treatment.
They were “cheating“, according to Trump.
He directed the US Trade Representative to “use all available means to secure changes” at the WTO.
Then Australia joined in. While in the United States, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to China as a “newly developed economy“, and backed Trump, saying that “obviously, as nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them also shift”.
China is digging in. It hasn’t resiled from a statement by its commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng in April:
China’s position on WTO reform has been very clear. China is the largest developing country in the world.
But what’s at stake? In practical terms, almost nothing. Trump and Morrison are demanding something that would give them little.