Some see the U.S.-China trade war as a temporary conflict that will be over soon. Nothing ccould be farther from the truth. This is not just any simple trade war involving two nations, but a war of money and values between a rising superpower and the current torch-bearer. If the U.S. loses the trade war, the negative fallout could be catastrophic not only for the country, but the entire world.
The optimists have a simplistic view of the trade conflict. Their reasoning goes something like this: Since the U.S. economy is bigger and America imports more goods from China than it sells, the United States should come out victorious, as the Chinese would want to avoid weakening their economy. This looks sensible at first. Trump himself has reiterated this thought several times. But when you consider how different the political structures of the two nations are, President Trump seems to be at a disadvantage.
Xi Jinping is literally China’s leader for life. No one questions his authority. Xi does not have to please his Party members or the citizens in any way. If he wants, Xi can extend the trade war for a year or even more, and people might suffer. But Xi’s authoritarian police will silence them with threats and violence like the Chinese Communist Party has always done.
In contrast, Trump has to cater to the whims of his party and the American people. He is in no position to extend the trade war indefinitely since that would displease a large section of the U.S. population hit by China’s trade tariffs. As people lose jobs and are forced to shut down their business because of Chinese actions, Trump will find it difficult to keep fighting against China’s unfair trade practices. The U.S. elections are in 2020 and if Trump fails to resolve the trade conflict before the election, the Democrats could easily capture the White House.
Brian Thalmann, President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, supported Trump during the 2016 elections. He would have continued with his support had the trade war with China not occurred. The conflict has specifically affected the corn business in Minnesota. Though the trade war was expected to help America’s agriculture sector, this has not always been the case, at least with corn farmers in the state. “We’re not starting to do great again… Things are going downhill and downhill quickly. At some point we have to quit playing games and get back to the table and figure this out,” he said to The New York Times.
There is also a great ideological risk of the U.S. losing the trade war with China. “If the U.S. is ultimately perceived to have lost the trade conflict, the leaders of democracies around the world will take notice. They will learn that confronting Beijing risks provoking a campaign of democratic destabilization — one that was successful elsewhere… China’s victory, then, would bring about a world in which democracies are enfeebled and the largest autocracy is emboldened,” Joseph Sullivan, the former special advisor to the chairman and staff economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisors, wrote in The Atlantic.
Victory for the Chinese would mean a strengthening of authoritarian governments across the world and huge damage to human rights. It would shatter the idea that progress requires a society to be democratic. So for the sake of the Western ideal of liberal democracy, the U.S. must win the trade war. The world simply cannot afford America losing to Communist China.