US-China Cold War
Tensions between China and the US have reached the most acute levels since the countries normalised diplomatic relations more than four decades ago, with the US government’s ordering that China close its Houston consulate being just the latest example.
The US administration is even weighing a blanket ban on travel to the United States by the 92 million members of China’s ruling Communist Party and the possible expulsion of any members currently in the country, an action that would likely invite retaliation against American travel and residency in China.
What are the trigger events?
- Coronavirus and anti-Chinese racism – US President Donald Trump and his subordinates have blamed China for spreading the coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. They have repeatedly described the virus in racist and stigmatizing terms, calling it the Wuhan Virus, China virus, and Kung Flu. The administration also has defunded and ordered a severing of ties with the World Health Organization, accusing it of having abetted shortcomings in China’s initial response to the outbreak.
- Trade relationship – Trump won office in 2016 partly on his accusations that China was exploiting the country’s trade relationship with the United States by selling the country far more than it purchased. In-office, he decreed a series of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and China retaliated, in a trade war that has now lasted more than two years.
- The South China Sea – The Trump Administration has increasingly challenged China’s assertions of sovereignty and control over much of the South China Sea, including vital maritime shipping lanes. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decreed that most of China’s claims in the South China Sea are “completely unlawful,” setting up potential military confrontations between Chinese and US naval forces in the Pacific.
- The battle over technology – China has long been accused by successive US administrations of stealing American technology. The Trump White House has escalated the accusations by seeking an international blacklisting of Huawei, China’s largest technology company, calling it a front for China’s efforts to infiltrate the telecommunications infrastructure of other nations for strategic advantage.
- Expulsion of journalists – Accusing China’s state-run media outlets of fomenting propaganda, the Trump administration sharply limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work for Chinese news organizations in the United States. China retaliated by ordering the expulsions of journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and took other steps that suggested further impediments to American press access in China were looming.
- Expulsion of students – The Trump administration has taken steps to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers in the United States who have direct ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, according to US officials knowledgeable about the planning.
- Hong Kong – In November 2019, President Trump, with bipartisan support, signed legislation that could penalize Chinese and Hong Kong officials who suppress dissent by democracy advocates in Hong Kong that were guaranteed some measure of autonomy by China. Recently, President Trump has taken steps to end Hong Kong’s preferential trading status with the United States after China passed a sweeping security law that could be used to stifle any form of expression deemed seditious by China.
- Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslims – The US Administration has recently imposed sanctions on a number of Chinese officials, including a senior member of the Communist Party, over human rights abuses by China in the Xinjiang region against the country’s largely Muslim Uighur minority.
- Taiwan and Tibet – Recently, the Trump administration has approved a $180 million arms sale to Taiwan, part of a far bigger arms deal that has angered Chinese authorities, who regard the self-governing island as part of China. Another long-standing source of Chinese anger is the U.S. deference to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader-in-exile of Tibet, the former Himalayan kingdom in China’s far west. In 2018 Trump signed a bill that penalizes Chinese officials who restrict U.S. officials, journalists, and other citizens from going freely to Tibetan areas.