Vice president Pence's speech outlining the administration's new policy on China may mark the end of what a 2016 article in Slate called "Bill Clinton's last legislative victory." Bill believed rebuilding China after the fall of the Soviet Union would bring it into the democratic world order and on to what was then regarded as the end of history. In a 2000 speech at Johns Hopkins University, Clinton said: "Supporting China's entry into the W.T.O. ... is clearly in our larger national interest. It represents the most significant opportunity that we have had to create positive change in China since the 1970's ... The W.T.O. agreement will move China in the right direction."
On May 24, 2000, Bill Clinton clinched what many believed would be the last great legislative victory of his presidency. That afternoon, the House of Representatives voted to award China permanent normal trade relations, effectively backing Beijing’s long-in-the-making bid to join the World Trade Organization. The historic deal had been Clinton’s top priority in the waning days of his last term.
But as the 2016 Slate article pointed out "things have not worked out quite as the 42nd president hoped. Normalizing trade with China set our rival on a path to becoming the industrial powerhouse the world knows today, decimating American factory towns in the process ... If you want to understand why Donald Trump’s furious message about trade resonates with so much of the public, and has helped him come within striking distance of defeating Hillary Clinton and taking the White House, you have to start with another Clinton’s choice at the end of his term." The Slate article proved prophetic. In late September of 2018 Neil Irwin described in the New York Times what the article sensed, the 2016 "Mini-Recession that many missed".
Yet understanding this slump — think of it as a mini-recession — is important in many ways.
It helps explain the economic growth spurt of the last two years. The end of the mini-recession in the spring of 2016 created a capital spending rebound that began in mid-2016, and it has contributed to speedier growth since. Oil prices have reached four-year highs, a major factor in a surge in business investment this year.
It helps explain some of the economic discontent evident in manufacturing-heavy areas during the 2016 elections.
The effects of a decision taken 16 years ago may not only helped sink Hillary, but forms the cornerstone of Trump's strategy. As Steve Bannon told Bill Maher in a recent interview, Trump's tariffs, renegotiation of trade agreements and tax policy are all aimed at reshaping the supply chain and reducing American dependence on China. The strategy articulated in Pence's speech, which Victor Davis Hanson described as a declaration of Cold War II, can also be thought of as an attempt to roll back Bill Clinton's "last great legislative victory."