The trade war between U.S. and China has been analyzed largely through the lens of state-to-state relations. But any attempt to fully assess how the dispute will affect China’s domestic development and foreign engagement must take into account the country’s dynamic middle class, which has suffered the brunt of the ill effects from the trade war.
In many ways, the seeds of the current U.S.-China trade war were sown in the financial crisis of 2008. The crisis had lasting impact by accelerating China’s catch-up with the United States, undermining U.S. fiscal strength, and slowing down China’s reform and opening.
Intensive engagement with China, which has been a foundation of U.S. policy since President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit, is under attack by critics of U.S. policy. Engagement was never undertaken as a favor to China, but because it was judged to be in the U.S. interest. Its abandonment would be highly likely to work against those interests.
On October 9 at 10 AM EDT, the John L. Thornton China Center will convene a panel of experts to discuss China’s environmental agenda at the international, national, and subnational levels. Experts will explore the relationship between growth and sustainability within China, opportunities for collaboration with other countries, and more.
China’s middle class increasingly supports standing firm against U.S. trade measures. In the initial stages of the U.S.-China trade dispute, China’s middle class tended to fault Chinese leaders, but now their views are changing, Cheng Li tells The Washington Post: “The middle class has been critical of the Chinese government, but now that anger is shifting to the United States. Chinese media has portrayed Trump as greedy and crazy.”
Endgame of U.S. tariffs remains an open question. The U.S.-China trade dispute has proven a confounding variable for countries weighing how to manage relations with both the United States and a rising China. In an article from The Washington Post, David Dollar says: “I don’t think the [Trump] administration knows clearly what it’s doing. Other countries are confused. We’ve launched a lot of trade measures against other countries and sent a signal of withdrawal from the world.”
As U.S. midterms approach, China is likely to become a bigger talking point. In a wide-ranging interview with CGTN, Cheng Li assesses recent developments in U.S.-China relations, the impact of upcoming elections in the United States, and the possible longer-term trajectory of U.S.-China relations.
About The China Center
The John L. Thornton China Center develops timely, independent analysis and policy recommendations to help U.S. and Chinese leaders address key long-term challenges, both in terms of U.S.-China relations and China's internal development.