The trade war is not about trade. The trade war is about the United States trying to contain China and undercut its rise.
That’s the increasingly common theory percolating in Beijing these days after President Trump slapped another, even bigger, round of tariffs on Chinese goods — and prompted China to retaliate with its own levies on U.S. imports.
Washington might see this as attempts at straightforward economic rebalancing.
But many in Beijing’s leadership look at it in through a wider lens of Chinese acendance and U.S. anxieties of shifting power balances.
The elements they see include Trump’s relative friendliness toward Taiwan, the prospect of U.S. sanctions over China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, and the American decision to exclude China from Pacific Rim military exercises this year.
Taken together, there is a strong whiff of conspiracy from China’s perspective. That could add another layer of complications to the already deepening trade battles.
“There’s a raging debate in Beijing about whether Trump wants a trade deal or whether he wants to thwart China’s rise,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Those who think Trump wants to contain China are opposed to making concessions.”
In public commentaries and in private conversations, the containment theory increasingly comes up.
“The United States’ intention to disrupt China’s development process has been thoroughly exposed,” the People’s Daily reported in the lead-up to Trump’s decision Monday to slap tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
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