Is the Trade War a Power Struggle Between Major Powers?

With the collapse of the Soviet Union after the cold war, the world embraced the unipolar system which is the USA as the leader of the world. Eventually, China’s rise could be seen after the cold war. In the present, the USA and China are the world’s largest and the second-largest economies. The two countries compete with each other to be the global economic power. 

During the Trump Administration in the USA, Both China and the USA started a Trade War to be the economic power in the world. 

In this post, I will discuss the Trade war and its nature as a power struggle between major powers.

What is a Power Struggle?

Basically, the concept of Power is very important in the International Relations. 

“Power is one of the essential contested concepts in the study of International Relations”

-Evans, Newnham, the penguin dictionary of IR- 

On the other hand, the realists assume that power is real.

As an overall, Politics is a practical process that activates the power struggle in a well-organized society. In the current situation, politics means the practical aspect of the power struggle. It means the struggle between two parties for political power. 

The power struggle can be national or international. However, the main objectives of the power struggle are

  •     Seizing power
  •     Confirmation of power
  •     Spreading power 

Trade War And Its Nature As A Power Struggle

Trade war means when a country fights with another country economically, by raising tariffs on imports and placing restrictions on other country’s imports. The 21st-century trade war is now happening between China and the USA. 

Since the end of the cold war, the USA was concerned about China’s rising. But the economic war between China and the USA was started in 2018. 

During the US Presidential campaign in 2016, one of the Promises of Donald Trump was to reduce the large trade deficit with China. Also, he said Chinese unfair trade practices, lack of market access for the US companies in China, were the reasons for this large trade deficit. 

In 2018 the USA imposed 25% duties on around US$ 34 billion of imports from China. China has also imposed a 25% tariff on US goods including automobile and agriculture products. Throughout the years, both countries imposed tariffs on the number of goods in each other. 

In January 2020 China and the USA signed a Phase one trade deal. Through the Deal, China agreed to buy an additional US$ 200 billion of American goods and services over the next two years. China also pledged to remove various barriers to US exports. On the US side, the US also agreed to suspend a new 15% tariff planned for December 15 on Chinese goods. 

As an overall, the ultimate goal of the trade war is being the global economic power. Again the major reason for this issue is economic power. Both countries want to achieve the global economic power status.

Even though the trade war is based on an economic factor, it expanded into Science and Technology and geopolitics.

The US and China heated up within the last years over the competition for Global Technology Supremacy. Almost the international system attempts to embrace Technology rather than previous because the world has accepted that technology is the solution to survive in the pandemic situation, meaning practicing E-Commerce, online education etc.

But under the Trump administration, the Tech Giants in China have hardly suffered from actions taken by the USA. One of the most familiar examples is the Huawei ban. Huawei is one of the largest telecommunication partners and Huawei planned to be the world’s largest Smartphone producer at the end of 2019. As a result of that, Huawei dealt with many accusations such as using their products to spy on the others’ information. And many people believe that Huawei has a close relationship with Chinese government. 

On the other hand, Donald Trump banned many Chinese apps including Tik Tok and Wechat, saying those are threats to the national security of the USA. Also, the Trump Administration is considered Blacklist China’s largest chipmaker SMIC.

Again here, Science and technology which can be identified as an element of power are a major reason for US-China trade war extensions in technology. Both countries want to be giants in technology.

When it comes to Geopolitics, the escalations between China and many other countries are not in a favorable position.

In the South China Sea region, there are many tensions between China and ASEAN members. At the same time India, the USA, Japan and Australia together as “Quad” try to balance the power in the region.

On the other hand, the South Asian region is also in critical condition. Both the USA and China try to be the influential power of the South Asian region. According to recent research, China is closing in on the US as the major influential country in the Asia Pacific region. 

India on the other side rejects China by aligned with the USA .When going through India and USA foreign relations in the 21st century, both presidential candidates in the USA presidential election had their agendas towards India and Indian Americans living in the USA. Also, most recently India followed the USA by banning more than a hundred Chinese apps including Tik Tok PUBG and Wechat. 

But as a South Asian country, Sri Lanka is on the Chinese agenda. Most recently a group of Chinese high-level diplomats visited Sri Lanka. At the same time, the United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo visited India and Sri Lanka. These situations are sufficient to understand the interests of the USA and China towards South Asia.

As an overall, both countries try to expand their presence in the world especially in the regions like South Asia and South East Asia. Most importantly the South Asian region and South East Asia are strategically and economically very crucial. There is a famous statement that “the one who dominates the Indian Ocean will dominate the world”. As a result of that many countries including China and the USA try to influence these regions.


Since in history until today and maybe in the future, if there is any War, the root causes or objectives are an element of power. As an overall, trade war can be identified as a result of the power struggle between major powers which aimed to be the supreme power economy, science and technology and geopolitics.

You can also check out my previous articles on everything you need to know about China’s economy and the pandemic period , Is Trump starting a Trade war?

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