Why has China become such a big political issue? Read “Why has China become such a big political issue?”, which touches on the history of the U.S.-China relations
Read “Why has China become such a big political issue?”, which touches on the history of the U.S.-China relations and explores issues like trade relations and strategic competition, efforts to denuclearize North Korea, as well as domestic U.S. political responses and public opinion toward Beijing.
After reading this article about the impact of China upon contemporary American politics and conducting your own independent research, discuss the key factors contributing to China’s ascendance as a non-democratic global power. How has their political leadership and approach to international relations changed over time?
China has been a salient political issue in each presidential election dating back to at least the 1992 contest between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, when, in the shadow of the Tiananmen tragedy, Bill Clinton promised to get tough on “the butchers of Beijing.” Clinton saw China as an issue on which to attack Bush, who had prioritized preserving relations with Beijing over punishing China for its massacre of peaceful protestors.
With the possible exception of Barack Obama in 2008, presidential candidates of both parties have politicized China to score points in each successive presidential campaign, by promising to get tough and secure better terms from the relationship than their predecessors had, and their challengers would. The 2020 presidential election almost certainly will continue this trend.
China has grown from an underdeveloped country into America’s foremost economic competitor. Since 1992, China’s share of global GDP has grown from less than 1 percent to 16 percent. During this period, America’s share of global GDP has declined, but only a bit – 26 percent in 1992 to 24 percent in 2017. The big shifts are the declines in Europe’s and Japan’s shares.
China’s rise in economic power has been accompanied by an increase in U.S.-China bilateral trade. The United States overall goods and services trade deficit with China in 2018 was $378.6 billion. The U.S. imported more from China than from any other country in 2018, and China was the third largest market for U.S. exports. Agricultural goods, aircraft, semiconductors, and motor vehicles have become leading American goods exports to China, and computers and electronics are America’s largest goods imports from China.
Since the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has viewed China as an important element of his political brand. Trump has demonstrated willingness to shatter old conventions and stake out new approaches to what he has described as China’s unfair treatment of the United States. He consistently has portrayed China as taking advantage of American weakness to grow wealthy and powerful at America’s expense.
While the Trump administration has cast the relationship as a multi-domain strategic competition, President Trump himself has been more narrowly focused. Trump has concentrated his rhetoric and his personal diplomacy with China’s leaders on resetting trade relations. Consistent with his views since the 1980s, he has identified the trade balance as the key measure of fairness in the bilateral relationship. Trump also has kept pressure up on Beijing to play a helpful – or at a minimum, non-harmful – role in support of his efforts to denuclearize North Korea.