Government & Military

Wilbur Ross

Which Wilbur Ross will Trump’s Cabinet get: the Sinophile or the campaign-trail China critic?

U.S. Secretary of Commerce

During his presidential campaign, candidate Trump lambasted China for its “rape” of U.S. workers. Yet the ultimate direction of President Trump’s China policy remains in flux. It may hinge on fellow billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a connoisseur of Chinese art and culture with extensive in-country business experience and ties to elite Chinese including Beijing princelings. Ross may enable White House fire-breathers like Peter Navarro, or he may become the yin to counter their yang. Both outcomes seem possible, based on the evidence. Ross co-authored a September white paper with Navarro that called China a “poster child” for currency manipulation and a “trade cheater.” Then again, a Jan. 2 profile in Politico called Ross “a devoted Sinophile” for his repeated, on-the-record statements predating the campaign that defended China against charges of job-stealing and currency manipulation.

It’s clear Ross admires China; the question is whether that sentiment engenders a measured approach to hot-button trade issues, or transmogrifies into imitation and thus implementation of China-like hardball mercantilist policies. Given Ross’ decades-long relationship with the president, the answer could prove crucial to U.S.-China ties.

(Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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