How Cold War between China and US is intensifying

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Tensions have escalated sharply under President Donald Trump's administration, despite his repeated expressions of admiration for President Xi Jinping. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Tensions between China and the United States have reached the most acute levels since the countries normalised diplomatic relations more than four decades ago, with the US government's order that China close its Houston consulate being just the latest example.

In defence, trade, technology, human rights and other categories, actions and reprisals by one side or the other have escalated sharply under President Donald Trump's administration, despite his repeated expressions of admiration for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Here is a look at what has happened in the past few years to exacerbate the tensions:


Mr Trump and his subordinates have blamed China for spreading the coronavirus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. They have repeatedly described the virus in racist and stigmatising terms, calling it the Wuhan virus, China virus and Kung Flu.

The administration also has defunded and ordered a severing of ties with the World Health Organisation, accusing it of having abetted shortcomings in China's initial response to the outbreak.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department accused Chinese hackers of attempting to steal information about American research on a virus vaccine.

For its part, China has rejected the administration's attacks over the virus and has criticised the poor US government response to the outbreak. Chinese propagandists also have promoted the counter-theory, with no evidence, that US soldiers may have been the original source of the virus during a visit to Wuhan last October.


Mr Trump won office in 2016 partly on his accusations that China was exploiting the country's trade relationship with the US by selling the country far more than it purchased. In office, he decreed a series of punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and China retaliated, in a trade war that has now lasted more than two years.

While a truce was effectively declared in January with the signing of what the administration called a phase one trade deal, most tariffs were not eased.


The Trump administration has increasingly challenged China's assertions of sovereignty and control over much of the South China Sea, including vital maritime shipping lanes. Just last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has described China as a major security threat, decreed that most of Beijing's claims in the South China Sea are "completely unlawful", setting up potential military confrontations between Chinese and US naval forces in the Pacific.


China has long been accused by successive US administrations of stealing American technology. The Trump White House has escalated the accusations by seeking an international blacklisting of Huawei, China's largest technology company, calling it a front for China's efforts to infiltrate the telecommunications infrastructure of other nations for strategic advantage.

The company's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, has been detained in Canada since December 2018 on an extradition warrant to the US on fraud charges. Last week, Britain declared it was siding with the US in barring Huawei products from its high-speed wireless network.


Accusing China's state-run media outlets of fomenting propaganda, the Trump administration sharply limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work for Chinese news organisations in the US. China retaliated by ordering the expulsions of journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and took other steps that suggested further impediments to American press access in China were looming.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2020, with the headline How Cold War between China and US is intensifying. Subscribe