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The China-U.S. Trade War: Past, Present, and Future

24 December 2020, 22:41 CET

It's a well-known fact that China has one of the most powerful economies in the world.

China-US - Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

As a result, many countries are working to improve their trade and investment relations with the nation. One country, however, has been notably warring with China over trade and investment activities for several years: the United States. Even as 2020 comes to an end, the China-U.S. trade war is ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether the situation will improve when President-Elect Joe Biden assumes office in January 2021. Below, we detail how the China-U.S. trade war has progressed thus far, where it stands now, and how it may evolve in the near future.


A great deal of China's economic fortitude stems from its strong production practices and workforce productivity. A huge portion of today's most sought-after products are made in China and shipped worldwide. In an attempt to stifle this power and minimize the need for trade with China, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed hefty tariffs on Chinese goods in 2018, totalling $250 billion worth of goods. Theoretically, these tariffs were put in place to make products not made in China (i.e. those made locally in the U.S.) cheaper than imported ones, thereby encouraging consumers to buy American. In turn, the administration suggested, the national economy would be boosted.

However, China retaliated, announcing trade tariffs on roughly $60 billion worth of U.S. goods. Some of the targeted goods included everyday items such handbags, toilet paper, as well as food items like frozen meats, fish, soybean, and rice.


In March 2020, in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the U.S. lifted tariffs on a variety of Chinese products, such as face masks, hand sanitizers, isolation gowns, and other medical supplies. The exclusions were approved for 27 Chinese companies. However, the pandemic has exacerbated existing tensions in the bilateral relationship, with President Trump frequently referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" and "Kung Flu," seemingly blaming China for the outbreak.


Many experts speculate that the China-U.S. relationship will improve during Joe Biden's term as president. Although many believe that the current situation is so dire that there is nowhere to go but up, many have stated that Biden will need to work diligently to reset relations and rejuvenate the American economy.

Certain experts have pointed to Biden's record as a senator and vice president, in which he demonstrated a thorough understanding of eco-geopolitical realities, as a promising start. For instance, Biden likely contributed to resetting the U.S.-Russia relationship following the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, knowing all too well that working with Russia is a better alternative to treating it as an enemy state. That policy ultimately led to the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and other cooperative agreements, which boosted global security. It is believed by many that he will be able to apply similar strategies in negotiating with China.

Clearly, Sino-American trade relations have been extremely tumultuous over the last two years, with tariff impositions totalling billions of dollars for both nations. However, there may be hope for the relationship to improve in the future under the Biden presidency.

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