The US-China Trade War: New Century, New Storyline

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The US-China Trade War: New Century, New Storyline

Ellen Ren, ’19, comments on her desire to separate her identity from the political conflicts and implications behind the U.S.-China trade war. “I don’t want to get caught in between any political conflicts between the U.S. and China. I don’t want it to affect how I carry myself, or identify as a Chinese-American.”

Ellen Ren, ’19, comments on her desire to separate her identity from the political conflicts and implications behind the U.S.-China trade war. “I don’t want to get caught in between any political conflicts between the U.S. and China. I don’t want it to affect how I carry myself, or identify as a Chinese-American.”

James Zhang

Ellen Ren, ’19, comments on her desire to separate her identity from the political conflicts and implications behind the U.S.-China trade war. “I don’t want to get caught in between any political conflicts between the U.S. and China. I don’t want it to affect how I carry myself, or identify as a Chinese-American.”

James Zhang

James Zhang

Ellen Ren, ’19, comments on her desire to separate her identity from the political conflicts and implications behind the U.S.-China trade war. “I don’t want to get caught in between any political conflicts between the U.S. and China. I don’t want it to affect how I carry myself, or identify as a Chinese-American.”

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Political analysts, economists, news reporters, and even the media in not only the U.S., but the entire West, view and cover China with a particular scorn, arguably rightfully so. Trade with China was initiated in the 1980s under the framework of unequal agreements and treaties in order to accelerate the Eastern behemoth’s integration into the global economy. However, China has leveraged its large markets to maintain these unfair, frankly outdated agreements past its era as a poor, struggling, post-communist nation. Furthermore, the nation has a history of authoritarianism, suppressing democracy and human rights, as well as leveraging its markets and size to bully both territorial neighbors and global partners into conforming to its way. China’s way is not only to further strengthen its economic leverage at the global level, but also to gain greater general hegemony in the world.

Fresh off the “American century” and still the world’s leader in G.D.P., political, and military influence, China’s ascendancy in the global stage obviously presents a challenge to American hegemony, and the stark, ideological differences between the two nations imply that mutually satisfactory, shared influence over world affairs in which each power does not vie to usurp the other is not possible. Again, China is strongly characterized by its authoritarian government, which controls everything: internal economic activity, citizens’ social media activity, as well as media coverage is heavily regulated by the C.C.P.

“China’s circumstances right now draw comparisons to those before the Opium War, and both times represented standoffs between Eastern and Western powers that would affect the balance of global power,” said Jeremy Lai ’19.

On the other hand, the pride of the U.S., and the West, too, is its upholding of republican values and individual liberties, such that the government must yield to personal freedoms, equal representation, and freer markets. Thus, the groundwork of the U.S.-China clash draws similarities to another Cold War. However, America’s previous rhetoric advocating for free trade and open markets against the Soviet Union does not translate well to the 21st century trade war against China. Protectionist measures such as tariffs have been utilized by the West to make China yield to fairer trade agreements that are not vestigial aspects of the 20th century, while China has attempted to change public perception such that it, in fact, is upholding free trade, through American regulation of Chinese companies such as Huawei, and Beijing approving a deal with Tesla.

For China especially, the trade war is less just another Cold War, as it symbolically represents much, much more. China’s rise in the twenty-first century represents its comeback from the “century of humiliation,” when Western powers utilized unequal trade treaties to strip it of its economic autonomy, create imbalances and dominate China as an imperialist colony, after the Opium Wars, and until Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Submission to foreign powers represented a stark change from China’s previous status as a dominant power before the 19th century, when it titled itself the “Middle Country.”

“China’s circumstances right now draw comparisons to those before the Opium War, and both times represented standoffs between Eastern and Western powers that would affect the balance of global power,” said Jeremy Lai ’19. Thus, the nationalist fervor behind China’s perspective in the trade war is not to be underestimated. The country’s resolve to not repeat history and yield to the terms of another Western nation puts stock in its pride in overcoming the “century of humiliation,” and not experiencing another one.

Nationalism on the American side, is not nearly as motivated by historical shame. As mentioned before, in the midst of another Cold War, the United States cannot simply repeat its freedom rhetoric, as regulation of Chinese products and companies on the basis of economic fairness and national security would be branded by critics as hypocritical. Without a prevailing ideological or cultural argument to stir nationalism and pride in the U.S., we should be careful not to take a bigoted path to do so.

Xenophobia has long been a part of American history, and during conflicts with another nation, American citizens of those descent have often been caught in the middle. For example, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II caused law-abiding, good, Japanese-American citizens to be victimized by a war dispute between the U.S. and Japan that had nothing to do with them.

As for the U.S.-China dispute, Chinese Americans should not be caught in the crossfire, as well.

“I don’t want to get caught in between any political conflicts between the U.S. and China. I don’t want it to affect how I carry myself, or identify as a Chinese-American,” said Ellen Ren ’19.

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