The Worsening Condition of U.S.-China Trade Relations

Trade war has strained the relationship between the U.S and China. Economic disputes between the two countries have caused a series of hostile economic policies. In early 2018, U.S imposed tariffs on imported solar panels, specifically from the Chinese market. China retaliated with tariffs towards U.S imports, escalating the trade war into a tit-for-tat pattern. The U.S. has justified its actions by citing China’s questionable stance on human rights, cyberattacks, and job losses in American industry. Despite the efforts to improve trade ties between U.S. and China, the desire by the respective administrations to dominate economically will likely prolong the trade war.

Many Americans and government officials are concerned about China’s policy on human rights. The Trump administration, for instance, took specific actions against China for its treatment of the Uighur minority. In 2019, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that China committed crimes against the Uighurs and other minority groups (Peters, 2021). “On July 11, 2020, the United States imposed export trade restrictions on 11 Chinese companies implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang” (Chow, 2021, p. 18). Biden’s administration has vowed to take a tough stand on China, signifying that the relationship may deteriorate soon. Even if China changes its policies on human rights any time soon, the U.S. may still justify its actions using other concerns such as cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity has grown a critical issue in the U.S. over the years. According to research by Pew Research Center, cyberattacks from China are one of the top concerns among Americans. The U.S. has accused China of a series of hacks against the country’s essential infrastructure. In retaliation, Trump’s and Biden’s administrations developed economic policies to decrease the risk of possible cyber espionage. Arguably, China’s multiple and repeated intrusions to steal intellectual property has worsened the trade ties (Harold et al., 2016). Yet, the U.S. has sought to devise mechanisms against China’s technological power that aggravates this concern while creating more jobs for Americans.

Cheap Chinese imports in the U.S. market have caused massive job losses in the manufacturing sector. Trade deficit determines how well the domestic market performs relative to the foreign markets. Cheap imports decrease prices in the domestic market, discouraging the growth of infant industries. It eventually forces companies in the U.S. to lower labor demand, consequently raising the unemployment rate. For example, Meltzer and Shenai (2019) record that the direct competition with cheap Chinese imports caused a loss of 560,000 manufacturing jobs between 1999 and 2011. From the Americans’ perspective and despite China’s criticism of the U.S. actions, the government needs to protect the domestic industry.

China regards itself as democratic while accusing the U.S. of double standards in the issue of human rights. Its authorities have spoken ill against U.S. intentions to exert pressure on other countries directly and indirectly. For instance, in 2021, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that the U.S. has rampant atrocities against humanity, such as police brutality against the black community. Chinese media has also focused on the temporary detention center at the U.S.-Mexican border where children sleep hungry and in poor conditions. China considers the U.S. as the unwilling party in the talks to engage in mutually constructive agreements.

The situation between U.S. and China will more likely get worse with time. The U.S. government continually experiences pressure from its citizens to provide more jobs and deal with external threats from China and North Korea. It is almost impossible for the current government to remove trade restrictions. On the other hand, China recognizes the danger of its policies in coping with the challenge of the nation’s transformation. The Chinese ruling party receives support from most Chinese people, and it would like to keep it that way. This pressure on the respective governments is growing instead of diminishing, implying that the growing economic tensions between the U.S. and China will worsen the trade war.

On the side of the U.S., trade restrictions emanate from concerns about China’s role in job losses, cyberattacks, and its human rights policies. China, on the other hand, is a giant economy whose potential is evident globally. Its authoritarian government is unwilling to give in to U.S. policies in the quest to preserve the growing economy. As each nation focuses on policies that guarantee economic independence, the relationship between the two countries is becoming a tit-for-tat. It is possible to have a common ground only if the two countries shed off their ‘great’ economy tag and agree on a mutually beneficial strategy, yet this seems almost inconceivable.


Chow, D. C. (2021). China’s defense of its human rights policies. SSRN Electronic Journal

Harold, S. W., Libicki, M. C., & Cevallos, A. S. (2016). The “Cyber Problem” in U.S.-China Relations. In Getting to Yes with China in Cyberspace (pp. 1–16). RAND Corporation.

Meltzer, J. P., & Shenai, N. (2019). The US-China economic relationship: A comprehensive approach. Available at SSRN 3357900.

Peters, M. A. (2021). The americanization of human rights. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-6.