• Arwa Hanin Elrayess

The Ultimate Bone-Breaking Battle: What's Fueling U.S.-China Tensions?

Updated: Jul 31



There has rarely been a point in history where China and the U.S. have been on friendly terms.

Over the decades, the two countries have lingered in a state of passive-aggressive warfare, where, instead of soldiers and machinery, the weapons of choice are economic sanctions, risky allegations, and unnecessary political disagreements.

And whilst many hoped that the world’s two most powerful economic forces would put their troubled history aside to tackle their shared corona-virus threat; it seems that the complete opposite has taken place.

Tensions between the U.S. and China are reaching an all-time high as President Trump accuses the nation of abusing human rights, allowing the spread of the virus, stealing trade secrets, and now, using apps such as TikTok to spy on the population.

Frankly, the last thing we need on our 2020 agenda is the possibility of another cold war; however, Trump’s allegations are too serious to brush aside.

So, the million-dollar question remains: are Trump’s accusations worthy of international concern, or are they simply distractions used to cover up his catastrophic failure against the pandemic?

Before we investigate the accusations made by the White House, we must keep in mind that it is likely they have been exaggerated, or possibly even fabricated, due to the U.S.’s deep rooted rivalry and unfavorable bias against China.

Therefore, to gain a more objective view of this situation, let us take a brief look through China-U.S. relations, to see what events may be influencing the tensions of today.


The bitterness between the two nations likely began towards the end of China’s civil war, when China’s Nationalist government, who were heavily aided by the U.S., were fighting off the Communist party.

Despite U.S. support, however, the Communist Party emerged victorious in 1949, resulting in the U.S. losing any power they had over the region.

So, in retaliation, the U.S. severed most ties with China and refused to recognize their new government until 30 years later.

The next major strain on U.S.-Chinese relations came following the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.

Despite very little being confirmed about this event, it is believed that hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were murdered by the Chinese military, igniting worldwide outrage and criticism of China’s communist government, especially from the U.S. who imposed trade-related sanctions and froze any military sales to Beijing.

Since then, China’s relations with the U.S. have been an unpredictable and unstable rollercoaster.

Yet, the confusion of the past is nothing compared to the tension of the present.





Trump’s presidential term has seen matters between China and the U.S. take a massive turn for the worst, with the two nations imposing billions of dollars’ worth of taxes on one another, fueling a large-scale trade war that continues to escalate.

Nevertheless, trade has not been the only aspect of U.S.-Chinese relations to go sour.

In 2018, the Trump administration accused the Chinese government of human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, where up to a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities were being imprisoned in ‘re-educational facilities.’

Although the U.S.’s initial reaction to this news was underwhelming, it seems that they are now escalating their response.

In October of last year, the U.S. imposed Visa restrictions on Members of the Chinese government. This was followed by a White House statement warning all U.S. companies from associating with any Chinese businesses that may contribute to human rights abuses, blacklisting tens of Chinese organizations in the process.

In response, a spokesperson from the Chinese ministry urged the U.S. to “immediately stop making irresponsible remarks on the issue of Xinjiang” and to “stop interfering” in “China’s internal affairs.”


The next source of friction between the two came in the form of direct U.S. involvement in Chinese politics.

In November of last year, Trump signed a bill supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, who were demanding greater freedom from the Chinese mainland.

This act gave the U.S. authority to sanction any Chinese individuals responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and could even penalize banks that do business with certain Chinese officials.

Yet, this is nowhere near the end of the conflict.


Following the allegations of human rights abuse in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the U.S.-China dispute spread beyond politics and into technological advancement.

Only a few months ago, the U.S. encouraged the UK, New Zealand, and Australia to abandon any Chinese 5G kits in their nations, claiming that allowing Chinese tech giants, such as Huawei, to become the heart of 5G innovation poses serious security risks.

These ‘risks’ largely stem from an Internet law China established in 2017, which requires China-based companies, including Huawei, to store select data in the country, and to ‘comply with government intelligence operations’ if asked.

This has led many to fear that their private user data could be accessed by the Communist Government, potentially compromising business secrets and sensitive information.


This is where the TikTok dilemma arises.

Owned by the China-based company ByteDance, TikTok is one of the apps subject to China’s Internet law and has long been the target of shocking allegations.

As a result of its Chinese origins, the application has repeatedly been accused of harvesting user data and sending it to China, with the New York Times finding evidence of this.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused many to question whether the videos and information they store on the site could be used to identify, profile, or even track them, and has also resulted in the U.S. threatening to ban the app.

However, the company has denied all allegations, claiming that it has never turned over user data, and would never do so if asked.


Moving on, the next source of conflict between the two nations came amid the early days of the corona-virus outbreak.

In addition to referring to Sars-CoV-2 as the ‘China virus’, Trump has repeatedly held the Chinese government responsible for its spread, accusing them of hiding critical information at the start of the outbreak.

The White House has also ordered U.S. intelligence to investigate whether the virus broke out from a lab in Wuhan, and have even suggested seeking compensation from China over their damaged economy .

Then, only a few days ago, the US Department of Justice accused China of sponsoring hackers who had been targeting labs developing Covid-19 vaccines, charging two Chinese nationals in the process.

And finally, on Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Houston was shut down after the U.S. blamed it for stealing intellectual property, supposedly costing hundreds of jobs- a move China has described as ‘political provocation’.



Unfortunately, the Trump administration has shown no signs of withdrawing their hostilities, despite the World’s current unstable condition.

Whether a newly elected U.S. administration would be willing to mend the relations with China remains to be seen.

However, if Trump remains in office, then the chance of a full-blown war between these two mega-powers will grow more likely, resulting in catastrophe for not only these two nations but for the entire world as well.