Everyday people are suffering in trade war
- The rhetoric and action from both sides inevitably mean that Chinese and Americans are increasingly feeling unwelcome in each other’s country
The conflict between China and the United States is about trade, not people. But the rhetoric and action from both sides inevitably mean that Chinese and Americans are increasingly feeling unwelcome in each other’s country. Detentions for alleged spying and violation of national security have increased tensions, giving the impression that another cold war is just a step away. Valuable ties and cooperation between ordinary citizens that have been built over the past 40 years of normalised relations are being put at risk.
Rivalry is at the heart of US President Donald Trump’s trade war, the aim being to curtail China’s economic, technological and military rise. The order for Canada to detain Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the technology giant Huawei, to face charges in the US of breaking American sanctions against Iran, seems to be part of that strategy. Complicating matters, Canada claims 13 of its nationals in China were subsequently detained and five are still being held, while the US has arrested or charged several Chinese with spying. The updating of a travel advisory by the US State Department, warning citizens of the risk of arbitrary law enforcement, is therefore not surprising.
Americans were told to “exercise increased caution” when visiting China and to be aware that dual passport holders would not be treated as Americans by Chinese officials. Specific mention was made of exit bans. Laws, rules, practices and conditions vary from country to country and visitors have to be mindful of them. It is the reason the Chinese embassy in Washington last July warned tourists to be aware of issues such as searches and seizures by customs officers, shootings and robberies, and expensive medical bills.
Grass-roots exchanges of people are the best way for nations to build trust and understanding. The Trump administration is eroding that by imposing restrictions on Chinese officials, academics, researchers and students. Scaring off tourists – about 8,000 Chinese visited the US each day in 2017 and 6,000 Americans went to the mainland – causes further damage. Trade is one matter; harming the interests of everyday people is quite another.