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Trump Told U.S. Business to Leave China. This Is Why They Can’t.

EntertainmentTrump Told U.S. Business to Leave China. This Is Why They Can’t.

SHANGHAI — In the space of 24 hours, President Trump ordered American businesses to leave China and suggested in a tweet that he has the authority to do so.

Whether he has that power is a question for Washington lawmakers and lawyers. Perhaps the more important question is whether severing American businesses from China is at all feasible.

At least in the short term, it’s not. American business is deeply intertwined with China, and untangling it would be messy and potentially destructive for the global economy.

On a long-term level, a shift is already underway. American tariffs and growing tensions between Washington and Beijing are forcing many companies to rethink their reliance on China. But China’s convenience and its vast and growing consumer market make it difficult for many businesses to abandon China entirely.

“We are seeing companies redirect investment, and it’s because of the uncertainty,” said Ker Gibbs, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. “I don’t think it’s because they are abandoning the Chinese market.”

Anybody who has looked at the label to see where products are made knows China is central to what the world uses. Chinese factories make iPhones, iPads, video game consoles, auto parts, industrial magnets, plastics, chemicals used in manufacturing, and a host of other essentials that keep the world’s economic gears running.

China is the most efficient place to produce a wide variety of goods. It has built vast networks of smaller factories that supply essential components to large factories. It has a work force of hundreds of millions of people who know how to staff an assembly line. It has fast trains, smooth highways and efficient ports that dependably move goods from the factory floor to the world.

China already makes a quarter of the world’s manufactured goods. That can’t be replaced anytime soon.

Factories are already leaving China, as Washington and Beijing impose higher tariffs on each other’s products.

But Mr. Trump’s latest threats have further alarmed American business leaders that changes in trans-Pacific trade relations are moving faster than they can adapt.

“Business is pretty numb about all of this,” said Rufus Yerxa, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based business group. “They’re in shock about how badly this has all started to go.”

However, the process is slow and difficult.

Companies like GoPro and Hasbro have openly discussed setting up shop elsewhere. Not all of the companies shifting operations are American: Danfoss of Denmark has relocated some production of heating and air conditioning equipment to the United States from China to avoid tariffs, reduce transport costs and limit shipping-related emissions of gases that cause global warming.

For all of Mr. Trump’s talk of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, that isn’t likely to happen.

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