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US paranoia aside, China would benefit from trade reforms

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The US-China trade war is not fundamentally about trade. Yes, US President Donald Trump and some of his advisers’ warped understanding of international trade precipitated using tariffs as a blunt instrument to “fix” trade imbalances. However, the feud must be seen in the context of much broader bilateral conflicts based on deep-rooted differences between the two countries.

At the core of the impasse is the fact the reigning hegemon feels threatened by a very different rising power. China is perceived as taking coordinated steps to transform itself into a global power, according to a recent US Congressional report. Moreover, China is almost the antithesis of the US – except for its embrace of capitalism.

Some of China’s recent actions have confirmed the US’ worst fears. Now without a term limit, Chinese President Xi Jinping could rule for life, some in the US believe. Protection of human rights has deteriorated with the persecution of Christians, Uygurs and human rights lawyers. While these are domestic issues China considers none of the US’ business, the US sees them as evidence of China being an unconstrained authoritarian power with divergent values.

China is viewed as militarising the South China Sea, challenging US supremacy in the Pacific. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative is interpreted as a sinister plan to redraw the US-dominated world order. While the former affront is regional, the latter is nothing less than the declaration of a global challenge. China is perceived to be trying to reframe, revise and subvert the world order maintained by........

© South China Morning Post