September 7, 2020 – Despite reaching a “phase one” trade agreement, U.S.-China ties are at their worst in decades, with as many as 100 official exchange forums scrapped by the Trump administration.
After winning the November 2016 election, President-elect Donald Trump continued his excoriating anti-China rhetoric of the election campaign. He repeatedly cast doubt on Washington’s long-standing position that Taiwan is part of “one China,” questioning four decades of U.S. policy.
A December phone call between Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai further infuriated Beijing. China lodged a swift protest, warning Trump that Beijing will never bargain over issues involving its national sovereignty.
Once in office, Trump changed tack, agreeing to honour the “one China” policy towards Taiwan during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That call led to a two-day summit with President Xi in April 2017, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“We have made tremendous progress in our relationship with China,” Trump told reporters. Xi also spoke positively after the summit.
Fast forward through a crippling trade war, accusations that Beijing is stealing U.S. technology and intellectual property and charges that China is a “currency manipulator.”
For its part, China imposed its controversial national security law on Hong Kong on the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese control. The U.S. retaliated with sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials and deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups into the South China Sea, further raising tensions over China’s maritime claims.
More sanctions followed on a member of China’s ruling Politburo over the mass internment of Muslims in Xinjiang province. At the same time, the White House alleged that China lied about the origins of the coronavirus and ordered China to close its consulate in Houston. Beijing demands U.S. consulate closure in a tit-for-tat move.
The U.S. announced in 2020 that it would stop sending Peace Corps volunteers to China after nearly 30 years. And both governments have moved to curtail Chinese student flows to American institutions.
Add Taiwan to the mix — in August U.S. health secretary Alex Azar became the highest-profile American official to visit the island since 1979. The same month Washington finalised a deal to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16 fighter jets — the most significant arms sale to the island in years.
Most recently, Trump’s China hawks declassified two diplomatic communications on arms sales and America’s “Six Assurances” to Taiwan — all moves pushing U.S.-China ties towards the point of no return.