Over the past decades, the United States has run persistent and large trade deficits vis-a-vis China. Accordingly, it is widely believed that these sustained and sizable trade deficits have led to large-scale unemployment and wage stagnation in the U.S.
In the face of such undesirable trade consequences, the Trump administration has emphasized the importance of trade balances and carried out a very aggressive protectionist trade agenda, including levying punitive tariffs on Chinese goods imported to the U.S. As China imposes counter-tariffs on imported products from the U.S. in response to the U.S. import restrictions, trade tensions between the world’s two leading economies have increased significantly over the past two years. This dramatic escalation of trade tensions ignites “the biggest trade war in the economic history to date” according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
Considering that the trade war stems primarily from economic objectives, the U.S.-China trade war has mainly been analyzed from an economic perspective. Indeed, numerous researchers have attempted to assess benefits and costs of the U.S.-China trade war to the global economy.
Although the U.S.-China trade war results largely from the rising protectionist sentiment in the global trade environment, it is not just about trade; in other words, it is about far more than economic conflicts. Instead, there are other factors behind the recent trade battle between the U.S. and China. One of them is a desire to solidify the political base and promote social cohesion within their own countries. In fact, evidence shows that the U.S.-China trade war has helped shore up President Trump’s core support.
Along with economic and political factors, the cultural perspective provides another way of viewing the ongoing trade spat between the two countries. In particular, the U.S., where the survival of the fittest mentality prevails, tends to deem the trade relationship as the winner-takes-all competition and view the dispute resolution process as a win-lose battle. Hence, the U.S. pursues a results-oriented tie with China.
On the other hand, as a highly collectivist society, China is more interested in mutually beneficial compromise and seeks to achieve a win-win outcome amid the current trade war situation. Consequently, there is a tendency that China sees conflict as a process to come to a mutually agreeable solution. In this regard, it often requires a lot of time and effort to find common ground between the disputing countries, especially when both are firmly entrenched in their positions.
In this context, the U.S. is short-term oriented and thus is inclined to expect quick-results or immediate gratification for their latest efforts to resolve trade imbalances with China. On the contrary, Chinese cultures prefer to hold a long-term perspective; as such, they are likely to prepare for a protracted trade war with the U.S. that could last several decades.
Likewise, the cultural differences between the U.S. and China add another layer of contextual complexity to the trade war; at the same time, these may serve as a tool for enhancing the mutual understanding with regard to the burgeoning trade dispute between the two countries.
Nevertheless, the U.S.-China trade war hitherto has been largely confined to economic aspect of the situation. However, this only partially explains the status quo. In order to get a more complete picture of the current trade war between the U.S. and China, it is critical to put it in the broader cultural context.
Kim Ko-woon firstname.lastname@example.org
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