Why China can’t win the US trade war with radical nationalism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 1:53pm

The trade war between China and the US has intensified, with American companies banned from selling components to Chinese telecoms equipment giant ZTE Corp. A lot of Chinese are angry with the US, believing that such punishment is unjust and an act of “containing China”, arising out of American jealousy of its rising power. 

The old ghost of Western imperialism has once again been revived, perhaps it never faded from our national memory. On WeChat, I see all the signs of a growing nationalistic sentiment, worryingly tinged with hate.

People are calling for a boycott of American products, Apple electronics in particular. The more radical ones are claiming they will destroy their expensive iPhones and iPads. However, it is ironic to protest against the US for not doing business with us, by doing exactly the same to them.

History always repeats itself. In 2012, Chinese nationalists wrecked Japanese stores and car dealerships and boycotted their cars because of the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.

Likewise, in 2017, nationalists drove the Korean retailer Lotte out of the Chinese market with violence and boycotts, after it provided land for the US to build an anti-missile system in South Korea.

Such anti-West patriotism may push China to protectionism. The angry masses want China to “fight back” and may have been delighted when Beijing also announced its list of tariffed items. It would be no surprise if the government chooses to accommodate this public hostility, and show toughness in the US trade war, allowing little room for negotiation.

Economists have long shown that free trade brings benefits. Trade barriers can only bring conflict into a healthy global economy, and that does not help the continued economic development of any country.

Katy Chan, Tiu Keng Leng