Will A China-US Rivalry Destroy Free Trade?


With the US presidential election about to come to an end, many Chinese experts are predicting several negative impacts to hit the US China trade relationship. This relationship can at best be described as frosty over the course of history. Despite this, the future following this year’s election looks even colder.

Article Highlights

  • Record voter turnout may make polls unreliable
  • Trump and Hilary are expected to damage the current relationship
  • Further trade barriers predicted to be imposed


Current US China Trade Relationship

Throughout President Obama’s reign the president did try and make forward steps to improving the US China trade relationship. During his campaign run, Obama spoke positively in terms of cooperation between the two countries. He cited both economies were strongly interlinked, and a combined effort could ensure both nations prosper. However, he did raise concerns, including insinuating China purposely valued their currency low to benefit their exporters.

President Obama also met with President Xi Jinping in 2013, hoping to build a “new model” of relations between the countries. A combined agreement was reached about combatting climate change, as well as an uneasiness about North Koreas nuclear program. Unfortunately, the leaders didn’t see eye to eye on all issues. Disagreements arose about cyber spying, and China rose concerns about certain countries the US sold arms too.

The US China Trade Relationship Post Election

The next President of the United States is all but confirmed to be one of two possible candidates. Republican Donald Trump initially was seen as a joke candidate, but has fought hard to become a front runner. Democrat Hilary Clinton is seen as the bookies favourite, and has been considered a serious contender since the start.

The US  China trade relationship will likely to suffer regardless of whoever actually moves into the White House. The United States is seeing an increased income gap divide, and the country is expected to focus on domestic interests over global concerns.

However, economists are more concerned if Donald Trump is confirmed as President Obama’s successor. The accomplished businessman has already confirmed he will impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports. For the first 3 quarters of this year, China was the United States largest trading partner. Over 15% of the total trade of goods was between the two countries. Economists agree implementing barriers to trade such as tariffs will be detrimental to both countries’ economies. 

The outlook appears brighter, but still bleak under a Hilary Clinton leadership. China may feel more familiar with a Clinton administration due to previous dealings. Trump on the other hand, would constitute unknown territory. Certain key issues have appeared which suggest the US China trade relationship will suffer under Clinton. She has been vocal with criticising the Chinese in the past. Issues such as human rights and the situation in the South and East China seas have made Clinton speak out. It is unlikely for Clinton to move towards open conflict between the two nations, but relations may remain  heated.

Lesser of Two Evils

In terms of the US China trade relationship, it is unlikely either candidate will make progress. Economists would prefer a Clinton administration, considering her leadership the lesser of two evils. A leaders level of influence also needs considering. Generally, their powers are overestimated, with congress able to veto and approve the most bills. With both candidates opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, this could open a door for the two nations to work together. The future is uncertain, and no one truly knows what lies ahead. Right now, it appears that the US China trade relationship may not improve in the near future. Only time will tell.

If you want to read about other possible barriers to trade that could be implemented. Either by Trump or Clinton, you may enjoy our Trade Wiki entry here.