Decoupling by any name a zero-sum game that’s inimical to global economic recovery

Throughout her first trip to Asia as United States Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen has been preaching the idea of "friend-shoring".

From the G20 finance ministers' meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to her visits to Japan and the Republic of Korea, she has been pushing the proposal that like-minded countries agree to Washington-designed trade practices that are ostensibly to boost manufacturing and secure supply chain resilience.

The real purpose, as she has revealed in multiple speeches, is to unravel the economic interdependence that has bound countries tightly together over the past decades of economic globalization, with the aim of excluding China.

She was especially explicit in her remarks in the ROK on the last leg of her itinerary.

Before her arrival on Monday, the US Treasury secretary said in an interview with Reuters that the US wants to end its "undue dependence" on rare earths, solar panels and other key goods from China to prevent Beijing from cutting off supplies "as it has done to other countries".

And during her visit, when lobbying hard for the ROK to avoid working with countries that allegedly use their market positions to unfair advantage, Yellen singled out China. "We cannot allow countries like China to use their market position in key raw materials, technologies, or products to disrupt our economy or exercise unwanted geopolitical leverage," she said in a speech on Tuesday.

The logic of her reasoning was simple and familiar-since Beijing is no longer a "trusted" trading partner of the US, but instead a geopolitical rival-it is no longer safe to depend on it.

Alleging that China has directed significant resources to seek a dominant position in the manufacturing of certain advanced technologies, including semiconductors, she said the country had employed "a range of unfair trade practices to achieve this position".

But what Yellen labeled "unfair trade practices", such as cutting off supplies to certain countries, were fully legitimate defensive countermeasures on Beijing's part against unwarranted hostile actions.

Nor is it fair to accuse Beijing of using trade to its own advantage. After all, trade is always a mutually beneficial behavior where two willing parties come into business dealings on agreed terms. For instance, it is ridiculous to argue trade between China and the US one-sidedly served Chinese national interests. No one knows this better than American consumers.

As for the "huge" US dependence on China, it is a logical outcome of economic globalization, and it is not one-way, either. China has also developed a "huge dependence" on the US in the process, which is why it has vehemently countered any clamor for "decoupling" by highlighting the mutual benefits.

With the prospects for a worldwide post-pandemic recovery still gloomy, it has never been more necessary for countries to work together to stave off a deeper recession. What the US is doing by calling on "trusted" allies "with shared values" to strengthen their trade in essence renders trade ties part and parcel of Washington's Cold War cliquism. That threatens to darken the clouds still further.