This weekend’s G-20 summit in Buenos Aires matters less for the main proceedings than for U.S. President Donald Trump’s expected encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has lately seemed intent on escalating their quarrel over trade, and Xi has shown no sign of backing down. With neither side willing to compromise, the dispute runs the risk of causing a complete breakdown in U.S.-China relations, and poses the single biggest threat to global peace and stability.
Understand, this isn’t just about Trump. In the background stands a new consensus on China. Opinions have shifted with bewildering speed. As little as a year ago, trade-policy experts and longtime China-watchers mocked the president’s obsession with the trade deficit and opposed his threatened tariffs. Now, without moderating their contempt for Trump, many liberal internationalists and advocates of open markets seem to agree with the administration’s hard-liners. They see China as a grand strategic threat — one that needs to be confronted, much as the Soviet Union was confronted during the Cold War.