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China-U.S. relations are at "worst point" in four decades, American professor says

Bilateral tensions span a wide range o economic, diplomatic and military issues. (Photo by Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)


Global Business Journalism reporter

U.S.-China relations are “at the worst point since normalization” 44 years ago as the economic, military and technology tensions between the two countries have intensified in the last decade, said Terril Yue Jones, a professor of international journalism at Claremont McKenna College, in a speech for Global Business Journalism students at Tsinghua University on Feb. 28.

Terril Jones: "It’s really important for American news consumers and American news writers to understand better the role of China and the possibilities and the potential of conflict cooperation going forward.”

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over the past decade as China became more assertive on the world stage and continued to outpace the United States in economic growth. Military strains have increased since 2012 when China achieved some military milestones including launching its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, and unveiling its new attack helicopters, which caught the attention of the people in the Pentagon, Jones said.

Economic tensions also have deepened in recent years. In the last two decades, China had steady economic growth of over 5% per year, except during the pandemic, and started to move toward a self-relied economy with its own industries while expanding foreign trade. The United States' trade deficit with China has increased from $83 billion in 2001 to $382 billion in 2022, according to the U.S .Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Due to concerns over the widening trade gap, then-U.S. president Donald Trump declared a trade war in 2018, which marked a nosedive in the two countries’ relations. In continuation of his predecessor’s policies, U.S. president Joe Biden has amplified these measures by imposing tougher restrictions on Chinese companies and strengthening anti-China alliances.

Tech is the hottest spot on the battlefield. The United States continues to put restrictions on Chinese technology development. In October, the Biden administration imposed unprecedented restrictions on the export of semiconductor to China. The Biden has been debating the release of an executive order to restrict investments by U.S. companies in parts of the Chinese economy including high-tech industries, according to Bloomberg News.

Other Western countries have joined the tech war against China. In March, Canada, Denmark and the U.K. all announced plans to ban TikTok on government-related issues in the fear of security.

“Chinese companies, such as semiconductors and telecommunications have just grown so quickly and become technologically so competitive. Western governments and Western companies feel threatened by it,” said Jones.

Tensions between the two countries have escalated to the point where there is talk of “decoupling.” According to Jones, decoupling reflects the American government’s political intention to protect domestic jobs and industries, and the Chinese government’s increased confidence in achieving economic independence.

As tensions intensified between the two governments, so too have the hostility and misconceptions among the Chinese and American people. Negative views of China among Americans have increased substantially since 2018, with 67% Americans have “cold” feelings toward China, a 2021 survey of Pew Research Center showed. Over 65% of Chinese people “disagree” with U.S. policies, according to a 2021 report in the Global Times, a Chinese media company.

Despite the differences, the two nations have become increasingly interdependent, the California professor told the Tsinghua audience.

“China will really affect Americans’ lives, and we don’t know in what kind of ways to come in the future,” said Jones. “It’s really important for American news consumers and American news writers to understand better the role of China and the possibilities and the potential of conflict cooperation going forward.”

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