At the Group of Seven meeting in France over the weekend, President Trump announced his administration had reached “in principle” a trade agreement with Japan. If the deal holds, Japan citing details still to be settled, it would bring a measure of good news to a wider trade discussion fraught with anxiety, confusion and real damage to farmers and others as tensions escalate between China and the United States.

As with so much about the Trump White House, it doesn’t have to be this way. The agreement with Japan largely mirrors the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which the president withdrew. The partnership brought much strategic value as a check, or leverage, against China, something the president could use.

August has been a most tumultuous time in the trade battle the president has been waging. Recall how the month began, the president threatening more tariffs on Chinese goods and labeling China a currency manipulator, though it halted the practice years ago. China responded by putting the kibosh on the purchase of American farm products. The stock market dropped steeply.

On Friday, another trade storm hit. China began by announcing new tariffs on $75 billion in American goods, including the reinstatement of levies on auto products. In response, the president said he would increase tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods from the current 25 percent to 30 percent. He has postponed threatened tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods but pledged they would go from 10 percent to 15 percent if imposed.

At one point, the president blamed Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, for failing to lower interest rates more quickly. “My only question is,” the president tweeted unnecessarily, “who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi [Jinping of China]?

The president then followed with a tweet declaring, “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” He eventually cited emergency authority to issue such a directive. Yet the emergency is his creation. By the weekend, he had backed away, perhaps reminded of the 1.4 billion Chinese consumers.

For the day, the Dow Jones average fell some 600 points. The business community warned about a dangerous turn, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stating: “Escalating tensions is not good for market stability, investor confidence or American jobs.”

There is a deepening concern this clash between Beijing and Washington may lead to a global recession. The Chinese economy already has slowed to its lowest rate in nearly three decades. Central bankers across continents have reduced interest rates. American exports have decreased to a degree not seen since 2009, while today trade supports 1 in 5 American jobs.

The president described himself as “the chosen one” to take on the Chinese. No question, the trading practices of China must be confronted. Missing has been a clear idea about what the president wants to achieve. His focus on the trade deficit is misplaced. China isn’t going to restructure its economy in any significant way.

Tariffs amount to a tax on American consumers. JPMorgan Chase issued an analysis last week estimating the expense at $1,000 to $1,500 per American household, depending on how fully the president carries out his threats.

Yet the primary problem is how the Chinese take advantage of global trading rules that currently classify China as a “developing country,” easing its burden of compliance. That must change, and the best way to get there involves rallying other nations to a cause they share. Unfortunately, in going it alone, and alienating trading partners, the president has made the coalition more difficult to form.