China’s Stance on the Trade War

Shirley Wang

“America is governed by Americans,” said President Trump at the UN General Assembly in September, reiterating the absolute sovereignty of his America. “We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism.”

Starting in January 2018, under the ideal notion of “America First,” the Trump administration started a trade war with China by initially imposing a tariff on solar panel imports, which are largely manufactured in China. In July, America targeted China by imposing 25% tariffs on $34 billion of imported Chinese goods, eliciting a proportional tariff response from China. In mid-August, U.S. implemented tariff on an additional $16 billion of imports, and on September 24th, the most recent tariff came into effect on at estimated $200 billion of Chinese goods, while China responded by implementing a tariff on $60 billion of US exports.

Publicly challenging the Chinese economy’s rise and accusing China of making a practice of stealing technology, Trump claims this trade war aims to protect U.S. intellectual property and alleviate the current U.S. trade deficit with China.

However, China is not buying all this hype: both diplomatically and economically, China seems to want to avoid a trade war, but rather to maintain its “win-win” strategy while maintaining its economic power in a multilateral world.  In order to clarify China’s stance on the trade war and prompt a reasonable solution, on September 24th, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China published a White Paper entitled “The Facts and China’s Position on China-US Trade Friction.” The White Paper is a firm manifesto of how China is observing and reacting to the trade war right now.  It dives into an overview of the current symbiotic trade relationship, trade protectionism by U.S. administration, bullyism practices and lastly, puts forward China’s stance.

Since the establishment of “reform and opening” and mutual peaceful diplomatic relations in 1978, China and U.S. have been crucial trade partners. As of now, the U.S. is China’s biggest export market and sixth biggest import source, while China exports one fifth, 20%, of its production to U.S. and imports 8% of U.S. products. While recognizing that trade with the U.S. indeed boosts China’s economic growth and industrial infrastructure, the White Paper especially emphasized all the benefits China is bringing to the U.S., including but not limited to: bringing U.S. a wide range of cross-border investments and entry into the China market, improving U.S. consumers’ welfare, lowering domestic inflation rate, and creating at least 2.6 million jobs. It also put emphasis on the strong bilateral complimentarity in the trade bonds, noting that China exports mostly electric machines, apparatus and furniture, while America mainly exports machinery and automobiles. In China’s definition, this trade partnership is by no means a zero-sum game but rather a win-win situation, bringing different yet concrete benefits both to Chinese and Americans. This is a direct and robust response to the claim that the United States is “losing” in this relationship, noting that its argument simply “does not stand up to scrutiny.”

The Chinese response gets even more bitter and robust in the following sections, as it continues to accuse the U.S. of implementing protectionism and seeking economic hegemony. In fact, ever since Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter agreed to a mutual peaceful diplomatic relationship, China has always promoted a win-win trade relationship and rarely speaks bitterly in the realm of trade with the United States.  Collecting all the White Papers on foreign trade, the wording of the latest one can be counted as one of the bitterest and fiercest, indicating the change of Chinese attitude and severity of the current tension. China believes that following the “America First” belief, “it (the United States) has abandoned the fundamental norms of mutual respect and equal consultation that guide international relations.”

Aside from listing how the United States discriminates by importing more from developed countries rather than giving equal opportunities to the developing countries, the White Paper directly addresses the issue of how Trump administration is abusing “National Security Review” causing impediments for Chinese companies’ investments. 19 percent of international investment or financial transactions being reviewed by a key US committee are from Chinese companies,or one fifth of the total cases, showing disproportionate attention to equality and justice. This crossfire escalates as China links the tariff situation with the claim that America is trying to “internationalize U.S. domestic issues and politicize economic and trade issues,” by imposing tariffs and its own interests on China in favor of intimidation and unilateralism.

As a direct result, the White Paper concludes, the global value chain and international economic order, which both China and the U.S. have been trying so hard to maintain in a sustainable and peaceful manner, will be shaken greatly, causing unprecedented, disastrous results.

The whole observation and criticism China is bringing up here in fact makes a very big argument: China is by no means buying into this trade war or how the Trump administration approaches economic diplomacy.

Granted, as China and America have different political and economic strategic policies and are in different stages of development, small frictions are almost inevitable. However, in the last section of the White Paper, China makes a very clear-cut stance, the core being cooperation. China makes a firm statement that the key to resolving the frictions and differences in economies and politics is “how to enhance mutual trust, promote cooperation, and manage differences,” and publicly expresses the Chinese wish to seek common ground while embracing differences when it comes to stabilizing the Sino-U.S. relationship. China calls for equality, rationality and negotiation, committing itself to “a sound development of China-US economic and trade relations” as well as protecting “the lawful rights and interests of foreign businesses.” A true advocate for globalism and international trade, China made it clear that it is calling for cooperation, following its “win-win” ideal as well as the principle of free trade.

Is U.S. acting in the same way, trying to restore a peaceful relationship? No. On September 25th during Vice President Pence’s speech, he publicly accused China of efforts to meddle with American public opinion and businesses as the midterm election is around the corner. The U.S. is still increasing the tariffs on Chinese imported goods. Up to now, the Trump administration has not shown a willingness to make concessions on either the Trade War or on the general foreign policy with China. Will 2018 be a new era of Cold War, with two mega-powers, each with opposite ideals? With the Trump administration’s headstrong approach and China’s demonstrated willingness to cooperate, eventually we will see the answer rising in the arena of diplomacy.

Shirley Wang is a Tufts undergraduate majoring in international relations and art history, and an intern at Massachusetts Peace Action.