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Sino-US decoupling: Breaking up is hard to do

The act of divorce is hard and complicated, as seen in the extension of supply chains

ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO
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As US President Joe Biden nears the 100-day mark in office at the end of April, his administration has not only stayed the tough-on-China course set by his predecessor but gone further. Decoupling, which served as the definitive buzzword in the lexicon of Sino-US relations during the Trump years, has continued apace and expanded into just about every sphere of bilateral ties - from trade to textiles, rare earths to regional diplomacy. But great power posturing and brinkmanship aside, decoupling has not been without its own inherent contradictions and complications.

The process of decoupling effectively began when the Trump administration concluded that a trade deficit with China - which stood at US$336 billion (S$448 billion) in 2017 - was detrimental to American interests. A host of punitive measures soon followed, designed to rectify the imbalance. The first salvo was fired when Washington announced US$50 billion worth of tariffs in March 2018, a move that catalysed tit-for-tat measures that sent relations between the two largest economies in the world careening downhill into a trade war.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2021, with the headline Sino-US decoupling: Breaking up is hard to do. Subscribe