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LONDON — Pressure on China today to push up the value of the yuan against the dollar is eerily similar to the pressure on Japan 30 years ago to make the yen appreciate. Back then, “Japan bashing” came to mean the threat of U.S. trade sanctions unless Japan softened competitive pressure on American industries. By 1995, the Japanese economy had become so depressed by the overvalued yen that the Americans relented and announced a new “strong dollar” policy. Now “China bashing” has taken over, and the result could be just as bad, if not worse.

By 2000, China’s bilateral trade surplus was as large as Japan’s; by 2004, it was twice as large. Whereas Japan bashing included “voluntary” restraints on exports that threatened U.S. heavy industries, where lobbies were concentrated and politically potent, recent Chinese exports have mainly been low- to middle-tech products of light industry. Thus, China bashing primarily means pressure to revalue the yuan. However, this demand is as unwarranted now as was pressure on Japan to make the yen appreciate.

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