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China and the United States have been engaged in a trade war through increasing tariffs and other measures since 2018.[1] Hong Kong economics professor Lawrence J. Lau argues that a major cause is the growing battle between China and the U.S. for global economic and technological dominance. He argues, "It is also a reflection of the rise of populism, isolationism, nationalism and protectionism almost everywhere in the world, including in the US."[2]


Background areas of disputesEdit

There are multiple areas of disagreement which preceded the trade war. In justifying some of the tariffs that the Trump administration would eventually impose Peter Navarro, White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director, provided a number of the administration's explanations among them are that they are "purely defensive measures."[3] He claims that the cumulative trillions of dollars Americans transfer overseas as a result of yearly deficits, are then used by those countries to buy America's assets, as opposed to investing that money in the U.S. "If we do as we're doing . . . those trillions of dollars are in the hands of foreigners that they can then use to buy up America."[4] After a seven-month investigation, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said that the value of the tariffs imposed was based on U.S. estimates of the actual economic damage caused by alleged theft of intellectual property and "[requiring or pressuring] foreign companies to transfer technology as a condition for securing investment or other approvals".[5][6]

Another area of disagreement concerns allegations of Chinese espionage against the United States. U.S. officials, businesspeople, academics and organizations have accused China (through its intelligence services) of either stealing American intellectual property and military technology or adopting and enforcing policies which put U.S. patent holders at a disadvantage in Chinese markets by forcing foreign companies to engage in joint ventures with Chinese companies which in turn gives Chinese companies illicit access to their technologies.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][16] Former director of the National Security Agency Keith B. Alexander called Chinese industrial espionage as "the greatest transfer of wealth in history."[17] and in August 2017, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer opened a formal investigation of China in regard to alleged unfair trade practices,[18] which are thought to cost the U.S. an estimated $225–600 billion a year.[19][20] In January 2019, U.S. homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and FBI director Christopher Wray announced 23 criminal charges against China's Huawei and its CFO Wanzhou Meng.[21][22][23][24] In response PRC state media declared that the government's attitude toward the protection of intellectual property rights is clear and firm, and it has continuously strengthened protection at the legislative, law enforcement and judicial levels, and achieved remarkable results.[25]

A further area of disagreement concerns foreign direct investment; under policy devised under Deng Xiaoping, foreign companies are restricted from entering some business sectors (such as the automotive industry[26][27]) unless they establish a joint venture majority-owned by a domestic partner. In these ventures, the Chinese company often receives rights to use intellectual property from their foreign partner, so they can produce domestic product based on it.[27][26] The European Commission filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over these rules in 2018, arguing that foreign companies are forced or induced to transfer IP to their Chinese partner, and establish research and development in China, as "performance requirements" to receive government approval in sectors such as electric vehicles. The EU believes that this violates WTO rules requiring fair treatment of domestic and foreign companies.[28] In a 2018 survey of members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China over half its members thought that "leakage of intellectual property" was an important concern when doing business there.[29]

China's response to US allegationsEdit

The Chinese government has denied forced transfer of IP is a mandatory practice, and acknowledged the impact of R&D performed in China.[30] Former U.S. treasury secretary Larry Summers assessed that Chinese leadership in some technological fields was the result of "huge government investment in basic science" and not "theft" of U.S. properties.[31] In March 2019, the National People's Congress endorsed a new foreign investment bill, to take effect in 2020, which explicitly prohibits the forced transfer of IP from foreign companies, and grants stronger protection to foreign intellectual property and trade secrets. China had also planned to lift restrictions on foreign investment in the automotive industry in 2022. AmCham China policy committee chair Lester Ross felt that the draft text of the bill felt "rushed" and "broad", and also showed concern for a portion of the bill that grants the country power to retaliate against countries that impose restrictions on Chinese companies.[32][26][33]

Chronology of tariff eventsEdit

White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro speaks on trade with Vice President Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross before the President signs Executive Orders regarding trade.[34][35]
  • March 22, 2018. Trump asked the United States trade representative (USTR) to investigate applying tariffs on US$50–60 billion worth of Chinese goods.[36][37][38] He relied on Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 for doing so, stating that the proposed tariffs were "a response to the unfair trade practices of China over the years", including theft of U.S. intellectual property.[39][36] Over 1,300 categories of Chinese imports were listed for tariffs, including aircraft parts, batteries, flat-panel televisions, medical devices, satellites, and various weapons.[40][41]
  • April 2, 2018. Ministry of Commerce of China responded by imposing tariffs on 128 products it imports from America, including aluminium, airplanes, cars, pork, and soybeans (which have a 25% tariff), as well as fruit, nuts, and steel piping (15%).[42][43][44] U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said that the planned Chinese tariffs only reflected 0.3% of U.S. gross domestic product, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the moves would have "short-term pain" but bring "long-term success".[45][46][47][48] On April 5, 2018, Trump responded saying that he was considering another round of tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese imports as Beijing retaliates.[49] The next day the World Trade Organization received request from China for consultations on new U.S. tariffs.[50]
Chinese vice premier Liu He meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump in May 2018.
  • April 4, 2018. Trump denied the existence of a trade war, saying "that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S." He added: "Now we have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year, with intellectual property (IP) theft of another $300 billion.[note 1] We cannot let this continue."[48][46]
  • May 15, 2018. Vice Premier and Politburo member Liu He, top economic adviser to president of China and General Secretary Xi Jinping, visited Washington for further trade talks.[52][38]
  • May 20, 2018. Chinese officials agreed to "substantially reduce" America's trade deficit with China[52] by committing to "significantly increase" its purchases of American goods. As a result, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that "We are putting the trade war on hold".[53] White House National Trade Council director Peter Navarro, however, said that there was no "trade war," but that it was a "trade dispute, fair and simple. We lost the trade war long ago."[54]
  • May 29, 2018. The White House announced that it would impose a 25% tariff on $50 billion of Chinese goods with "industrially significant technology;" the full list of products affected to be announced by June 15, 2018.[55] It also planned to impose investment restrictions and enhanced export controls on certain Chinese individuals and organizations to prevent them from acquiring U.S. technology.[56] China said it would discontinue trade talks with Washington if it imposed trade sanctions."[57]
  • June 15, 2018. Trump declared that the United States would impose a 25% tariff on $50 billion of Chinese exports. $34 billion would start July 6, 2018, with a further $16 billion to begin at a later date.[58][59][60] China's Commerce Ministry accused the United States of launching a trade war and said China would respond in kind with similar tariffs for US imports, starting on July 6, 2018.[61] Three days later, the White House declared that the United States would impose additional 10% tariffs on another $200 billion worth of Chinese imports if China retaliated against these U.S. tariffs.[38] The list of products included in this round of tariffs was released on July 11, 2018, and was set to be implemented within 60 days.[62]
  • June 19, 2018. China retaliates, threatening its own tariffs on $50 billion of U.S. goods, and stating that the United States had launched a trade war. Import and export markets in a number of nations feared the tariffs would disrupt supply chains which could "ripple around the globe."[63]
  • July 6, 2018. American tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods came into effect. China imposed retaliatory tariffs on US goods of a similar value. The tariffs accounted for 0.1% of the global gross domestic product.[64][65] On July 10, 2018, U.S. released an initial list of the additional $200 billion of Chinese goods that would be subject to a 10% tariff.[66] Two days later, China vowed to retaliate with additional tariffs on American goods worth $60 billion annually.[67]
  • August 8, 2018. The Office of the United States Trade Representative published its finalized list of 279 Chinese goods, worth $16 Billion, to be subject to a 25% tariff from August 23, 2018.[68][69][38] In response, China imposed 25% tariffs on $16 billion of imports from the US, which was implemented in parallel with the US tariffs on August 23, 2018.[70]
  • August 14, 2018. China filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), stating that US tariffs on foreign solar panels clash with WTO ruling and have destabilized the international market for solar PV products. China stated that the resulting impact directly harmed China's legitimate trade interests.[71]
  • August 22, 2018. US treasury undersecretary David Malpass and Chinese commerce vice-minister Wang Shouwen met in Washington, D.C. in a bid to reopen negotiations. Meanwhile, on August 23, 2018, the US and China's promised tariffs on $16 billion of goods took effect,[72] and on August 27, 2018, China filed a new WTO complaint against the US regarding the additional tariffs.[73]
  • September 17, 2018. The US announced its 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods would begin on September 24, 2018, increasing to 25% by the end of the year. They also threatened tariffs on an additional $267 billion worth of imports if China retaliates,[74] which China promptly did on September 18 with 10% tariffs on $60 billion of US imports.[75][76] So far, China has either imposed or proposed tariffs on $110 billion of U.S. goods, representing most of its imports of American products.[74]
  • November 10, 2018 - White House National Trade Council director Peter Navarro alleged that a group of Wall Street billionaires are conducting an influence operation on behalf of the Chinese government by weakening the president and the U.S. negotiating position, and urged them to invest in the rust belt.[77][78]
  • November 30, 2018. President Trump signed the revised U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30. The USMCA contains an article 32.10 which aims at preventing any non-market economy, especially China, from taking advantage of the agreement.[79][80][81] Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China said "One thing the Chinese have had to acknowledge is that it wasn't a Trump issue; it was a world issue. Everybody's tired of the way China games the trading system and makes promises that never amount to anything."[82]
  • December 1, 2018. The planned increases in tariffs were postponed. The White House stated that both parties will "immediately begin negotiations on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft."[83][84] According to the Trump Administration, "If at the end of [90 days], the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10 percent tariffs will be raised to 25 percent."[85][86] The U.S. trade representative's office confirmed the hard deadline for China's structural changes is March 1, 2019.[87][88]
  • December 4, 2018. New York Fed president John Williams said that he believed the US economy will stay strong in 2019.[89] Williams expects that increases in the interest rates will be necessary to maintain the economy. He stated, “Given this outlook of strong growth, strong labor market and inflation near our goal and taking account all the various risks around the outlook, I do expect further gradual increases in interest rates will best sponsor a sustained economic expansion."[89]
  • May 5, 2019. Trump stated that the previous tariffs of 10% levied in $200 billion worth of Chinese goods would be raised to 25% on May 10.[90] With notification by USTR, the Federal Register on May 9 published the modification of duty on or after 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time Zone May 10 to 25% for the products of China covered by the September 2018 action.[91] The stated reason being that China reneged upon already agreed upon deals.[92]
  • May 15, 2019. Trump signed executive order 13873, which sought to restrict the export of U.S. information and communications technology to "foreign adversaries" under national security grounds. The order did not make any references to specific companies or nations, but it was heavily implied that the order was meant to support United States allegations of espionage via Chinese telecommunications firms.[93][94]
  • June 1, 2019. China will raise tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods.[95]
  • June 29, 2019. During the G20 Osaka summit, Trump announces he and Xi Jinping agreed to a "truce" in the trade war after extensive talks. Prior tariffs are to remain in effect, but no future tariffs are to be enacted "for the time being" amid restarted negotiations. Additionally, Trump said he would allow American companies to sell their products to Huawei, but the company would remain on the U.S. trade blacklist.[96] However, the extent of how much this plan to temporarily exempt Huawei from previous bans would be implemented later became unclear and, in the weeks later, there was no clear indication of the reversal of Huawei bans.[97][98]
  • August 1, 2019. Trump announced on Twitter that additional 10% tariff will be levied on the "remaining $300 billion of goods".[99]
  • August 5, 2019. The central bank of China (PBOC) let the renminbi fall over 2 % in three days to the lowest point since 2008 as it was hit by strong sales due to the threat of tariffs.[100]
  • August 5, 2019. The U.S. Department of Treasury officially declared China as a Currency Manipulator. [101] In July 2019 the IMF found the yuan to be correctly valued, while the dollar was overvalued.[100]
  • August 5, 2019. China orders state-owned enterprises to stop buying US agricultural products,[102] totaling $20 billion per year before the trade war and $20 billion per year as of July 2019.[103]
  • August 9, 2019. China announces an accelerated decrease in holdings of US treasury holdings, targeting 25% of its current holdings of $1.1 trillion. [104]
  • August 13, 2019. Trump delays some of the tariffs. $111 billion worth will still take place on September 1 (which means that on September 1, $361 billion worth of Chinese products will face a tariff), but $156 billion will not take effect until December 15.[105]


In April 2018, China announced that it would eliminate laws that required global automakers and shipbuilders to work through state-owned partners.[106] President of China and General Secretary Xi Jinping reiterated those pledges, affirming a desire to increase imports, lower foreign-ownership limits on manufacturing and expand protection to intellectual property, all central issues in Trump's complaints about their trade imbalance.[107] Trump thanked Xi for his "kind words on tariffs and automobile barriers" and "his enlightenment" on intellectual property and technology transfers. "We will make great progress together!" the president added.[107]

By early July 2018, there were negative and positive results already showing up in the economy as a result of the tariffs, with a number of industries showing employment growth while others were planning on layoffs.[108] Regional commentators noted that consumer products were the most likely to be affected by the tariffs. A timeline of when costs would rise was uncertain as companies had to figure out if they could sustain a tariff hike without passing on the costs to consumers.[109]

On July 6, 2018, when the tariffs went into effect, markets rebounded and rallied due to positive jobs report in the U.S.[110] Asian markets similarly rebounded, ending the day in a high note. According to the Associated Press, the positive reaction to the tariffs in U.S. and Asian markets was because of an end to uncertainty[110] and, according to Investor's Business Daily, because "markets had largely priced in the impact".

On December 4, 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial Average logged its worst day in nearly a month as it declined nearly 600 points, to which some argue is in part due to the trade war.[111]

The trade war forced China to import soybeans from Brazil and other producers instead of from the U.S.[112] Forbes suggested that U.S. farmers should reduce soybean production instead of depending on China.[113] President Trump responded that he would spend the tens of billions of dollars in tariffs from China to buy products from "Great Patriot Farmers" and distribute the food to starving people in nations around the world.[114][115]

According to a January 14, 2019 article in the Wall Street Journal, despite US-imposed tariffs, in 2018 China's annual trade surplus was $323.32 billion, a record high.[116] On February 6, 2018, The New York Times reported that in 2017 the trade deficit had also reached a record high.[117] In March 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce stated that in 2018 the U.S. trade deficit reached $621 billion, the highest it had been since 2008.[118] On May 23, 2019, President Trump announced a $16 billion welfare to U.S. farmers hurt by the trade war with China.[119] According to a study by the National Retail Federation of the United States, a 25% tariff on Chinese furniture alone would cost US consumers an additional $4.6 billion in annual payments.[120]

At the same time that China implemented retaliatory tariffs against the United States, there was a reduction in tariffs on all other exporters, which put U.S. exporters at a competitive disadvantage.[121]

The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook report released in April 2019 lowered the global economic growth forecast for 2019 from 3.6% expected in 2018 to 3.3%, and said that economic and trade frictions may further curb global economic growth and continue weaken the investment.[122]


United States domestic reactionsEdit


Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised President Trump's higher tariffs against China's alleged taking advantage of the U.S. and said "Democrats, Republicans, Americans of every political ideology, every region in the country should support these actions." Other Democratic senators who supported Trump's actions include Bob Menendez, Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden[123][124][125][126][127] Bipartisan support from the House of Representatives for Trump's actions came from Nancy Pelosi[128][129][130] and Brad Sherman[131] Kevin Brady[123] and Ted Yoho.[131]

U.S. industry

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, is a proponent of the increased U.S. tariffs.[132]

On CNBC's Mad Money, John Ferriola, the CEO and president of Nucor, America's largest steel producer and its largest metal recycler, argued that the tariffs were not unfair, but were "simply leveling the playing field." Ferriola added that not only the "European Union, but most countries in the world, have a 25 percent or greater VAT, (Value-added tax), on products going into their countries from the United States. So if we impose a 25 percent tariff, all we are doing is treating them exactly as they treat us."[133] In the European Union, value-added tax is refunded only to manufacturers within a recognized VAT zone. European law does not recognize the U.S. income tax system as a VAT. Ferriola further claimed that even with the tariffs on steel, the cost of an average $36,000 car would go up about $160, less than half of 1 percent, while a can of beer would only cost an extra penny more.[133]

In 2018, following announcements of escalation of tariffs by the U.S. and China, representatives of several major U.S. industries expressed their fears of the effects on their businesses. Organizations critical of the intensifying trade war included Retail Industry Leaders Association. Several mayors representing towns with a heavy reliance on the manufacturing sector also expressed their concerns.[132] In September 2018, a business coalition announced a lobbying campaign called "Tariffs Hurt the Heartland" to protest the proposed tariffs.[134] as the tariffs on Chinese steel, aluminum, and certain chemicals contributed to rising fertilizer and agricultural equipment costs in the United States.[135] A report by Logisym found that, despite the rising prices, demand for freight services increased and imports from China into the U.S. grew from US$38,230 million to US$50,032 million. Some commentators have noted that despite the fear of falling trade, increased imports and freight services signaled a growth of demand for goods from China.[136]

On May 20, 2019, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, an industry trade association for footwear, issued an open letter to President Trump, part of which read: "On behalf of our hundreds of millions of footwear consumers and hundreds of thousands of employees, we ask that you immediately stop this action", referring to the trade war.[137][138]

Due to the trade war, Chinese investment needed by American aircraft manufacturer ICON Aircraft was cut in August 2019. This necessitated laying off 40% of he company workforce and cutting ICON A5 aircraft production to fewer than five aircraft per month, from a target of 20 aircraft per month.[139]


In an April 2018 article in Forbes, Harry G. Broadman, a former U.S. trade negotiator, argued that while the Trump administration's position that the Chinese do not abide by fair, transparent and market-based rules for global trade was broadly correct, employing unilateral tariffs is a self-defeating approach and the administration should instead pursue a coalition-based trade strategy.[140]

Economic analyst Zachary Karabell has argued that the administration's tariff-based approach would not work as it would not "reverse what has already been transferred and will not do much to address the challenge of China today, which is no longer a manufacturing neophyte" and also argued that the assertion that more rigorous intellectual property protections would "level the playing field" was problematic.[141] He recommended instead that the U.S. focus on its relative advantages of economic openness and a culture of independence.[141]


On June 1, 2018, after similar action by the United States, the European Union launched WTO legal complaints against China's alleged forced ownership-granting and usage of technology that is claimed to discriminate foreign firms and undermine the intellectual property rights of EU companies. They are allegedly forced to establish joint ventures in order to gain access to the Chinese market. The European commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström said "We cannot let any country force our companies to surrender this hard-earned knowledge at its border. This is against international rules that we have all agreed upon in the WTO."[142][143] American, European and Japanese officials have discussed joint strategy and taken actions against unfair competition by China.[144][145][146] The 2018 G20 summit stated that the multilateral trading system "is currently falling short of its objectives... necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning."[147]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ As of 2016, the total amount of U.S. imports equaled $2,248,209 million dollars whereas the total imports of China stood at $1,587,921 million dollars.[51] In regard to exports, U.S. exports were $1,450,457 million dollars whereas China exports were $2,097,637 million dollars.[51] China has had a continuous trade surplus with the United States, amounting to $275.81 billion in 2017. Of the trade surplus, 68% of it is derived from the United States alone.[51] While China experienced a trade surplus, the United States was faced with a trade deficit; therefore persuading the Trump Administration to take action.[51]


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Further readingEdit

  • Albuquerque, José Luiz, Antonio MArcelo Jackson Ferreira da Silva, and José Medeiros da Silva. "The China-US Trade War." Revista do Fórum Internacional de Ideias 9.1 (2019): 11+ online, a Brazilian perspective
  • Boucher, Jean-Christophe, and Cameron G. Thies. "'I Am a Tariff Man': The Power of Populist Foreign Policy Rhetoric under President Trump." Journal of Politics 81.2 (2019): 712-722.
  • Chong, Terence Tai Leung, and Xiaoyang Li. "Understanding the China–US trade war: causes, economic impact, and the worst-case scenario." Economic and Political Studies 7.2 (2019): 185-202. online, a historical perspective
  • Crowley, Meredith A. (ed.), Trade War: The Clash of Economic Systems Endangering Global Prosperity (CEPR Press, 2019).
  • Fenby, Jonathan, and Trey McArver. The Eagle and the Dragon: Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and the Fate of US/China Relations (2019)
  • Lau, Lawrence J. The China-U.S. Trade War and Future Economic Relations (Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2019) online, a Hong Kong perspective
  • Qiu, Larry D., Chaoqun Zhan, and Xing Wei. "An analysis of the China–US trade war through the lens of the trade literature." Economic and Political Studies 7.2 (2019): 148-168.
  • Qiu, Larry D., and Xing Wei. "China–US trade: implications on conflicts." China Economic Journal (2019): 1-20.

External linksEdit