The US-China Trade War, Explained

The escalation of the trade war negatively impacts the working class.


Diya Jain, Deputy Opinion Editor

At first glance, it is easy to miss just how far-reaching the negative impacts of the U.S.-China trade war are. What started off as a race to be the leading global power in 2011 has evolved into an egotistical battle of failed talks between Presidents Trump and Xi stretching well into 2019. With both sides resorting to raising tariffs every few months, the futures of the U.S. and Chinese economies — not to mention those of third-party countries involved — look bleak. In the past few months, U.S. tariffs applied to Chinese goods amounted to $550 billion. Tariffs imposed on U.S. goods amounted to $185 billion, with both sides threatening to tax weaker sectors of the other (such as the U.S. agricultural industry), leaving no choice but retaliation. 

Unfortunately, as with many international policy wars, the working class in both countries take the worst hit. In the U.S., smaller companies that can’t afford to produce goods outside of China have been forced to lay off workers and suffer losses. This is an effect of a rise in product prices — finding new manufacturing locations can be expensive. Prices of retail goods are at an all-time high — impacting lower-income families most — and employment took a sharp dip downward as soon as the trade war began. This means that the job market is more competitive, which hurts new graduates. If that’s not worrying enough, necessities like food and clothing cost up to 13% more now because a large percentage of the U.S. manufacturing industry relies on China. As a result, the quality of life of university students living on fixed budgets who consume these products may be affected. 

The trade war has also created complications in Chinese students’ decision to study in the U.S.; the South China Morning Post reported that just over 20% of Chinese respondents chose the United Kingdom as their first choice, ahead of the U.S. at approximately 17% due to tighter visa control concerns. As an international student, two reasons I chose to study in the U.S. were the breadth of subjects offered by universities here and the emphasis on freedom of expression in American culture. Denying these benefits to students from China — a country known for its suppression of political dissent — can be detrimental to their futures. Additionally, a lower influx of international students could result in fewer opportunities for American students to be exposed to a culture different from their own. Learning values from global cultures is an integral component of a holistic education. The accelerating trade war and diplomatic tensions could impede students’ accumulation of experiences and knowledge that are not found in textbooks. 

Ultimately, this war promotes the message of xenophobia over globalization. This is problematic at a fundamental level. Rather than a war to be the leading power in the world, economic policies should be dictated with a focus on finding the right balance in trade that could benefit both parties. Although some may find this idealistic, it’s time that the focus of policy decisions by global superpowers shift from villainizing competitors to learning from them. It is important to note that certain issues have social and cultural impacts that cannot be ignored, and must be kept in mind when making economic policy decisions. More research and representation of minorities in positions of authority are the first steps that should be taken towards safeguarding against the dangers of unilaterally ultra-nationalist policy decisions.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Diya Jain at [email protected].