By Alex Pollock

After a brief period of apparent calm with the signing of a trade deal in January, the US-China relationship has worsened dramatically in the past few months, with the Covid-19 pandemic adding a new and deadly edge to an increasingly bitter and fiery competition. (Bloomberg)

Increasing Tensions

Since the start of the trade war in 2018, the relationship between the United States and China has been tumultuous as the leaders of both countries have sought to solidify their spot as the top world power. The current coronavirus pandemic has only increased tensions. According to Bloomberg, over the last few months, there have been four major points of contention between the United States and China: the handling of COVID-19, trade and economics, the state of Taiwan, and technological developments.

The United States, China, and COVID-19

Tensions between the United States and China have come to a head in the last few months as US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have traded accusations about who is to blame for the extent of the current coronavirus pandemic. Near the beginning of the outbreak in January 2020, Mr Trump praised Mr Xi for his handling of the coronavirus, and issued statements that he did not think the United States was at great risk of experiencing a COVID outbreak. The relationship between the two leaders began to deteriorate once the United States started to experience a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases. Mr Trump began to criticise Mr Xi for withholding vital information from the rest of the world that could have potentially decreased the global impact of the virus.

In April, Mr Trump suspended American funding of the World Health Organisation, saying the organisation was too reliant on China and was “complicit in the slow release of vital information”. Mr Trump, along with 100 other member nations, has called for an independent investigation into the WHO’s handling of the pandemic and its relationship with China. Mr Xi combatted Mr Trump’s statements by saying the United States, not China, is responsible for its own response to the virus, and any impacts on the US stemming from the coronavirus has nothing to do with China.

At a WHO meeting this month, Mr Xi announced a plan to donate two billion dollars to help fight COVID-19, a move Mr Trump criticised as an attempt to distract from China’s mismanagement of the pandemic. Mr Trump responded to the donation with a letter in which he expressed deep concern over the WHO’s dependence on China, threatening to permanently withhold American funding if the WHO did not address his grievances within 30 days.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made statements accusing the Wuhan Institute of Virology of leaking the coronavirus, a theory that lacks sufficient scientific evidence and has further deteriorated the countries’ relationship.

Trade and Economics

The economic impact of COVID-19 on both countries has left a trade deal, signed in January, hanging in the balance. The deal has Mr Trump cutting tariffs up to 50%, and China agreeing to purchase at least $200 billion worth of American agricultural and manufactured goods, over the next two years.

The deal was finally reached after the United States accused China of participating in unfair trade practices and not offering enough protection of intellectual property rights. China, in turn, accused the United States of trying to curb its economic growth. Mr Trump’s stated intention was to increase America’s ability to be self-sufficient. According to Mr Trump, the implementation of tariffs was carried out to move manufacturing back to the United States. China retaliated by implementing its own tariffs on American goods.

Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said China is currently behind schedule on making the agreed-upon purchases, but that the agreement was still active. There was talk of renegotiating the deal due to the current economic state of both countries, but Mr Trump has refused to reopen dialogue on the subject at this time.

The signing of the agreement brought 18-months of hard-hitting tariffs to a halt and was a relief to both economies. If the terms of phase one are not met, the deal will be invalid, threatening a return of strict tariffs on two hard-hit economies.


Mr Pompeo further deepened diplomatic tensions by sending a written statement congratulating Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on being inaugurated earlier this month, a move which caused Beijing to threaten retaliation. The United States and Taiwan do not have official diplomatic relations but maintain strong economic ties. Mr Trump’s administration has cited Beijing’s tight control over Taiwan as a threat to long-term economic goals. Mr Xi threatened “necessary measures” in response to the US’s expressions of support for Taiwan. Mr Pompeo also announced that the US is considering a deal to sell torpedoes to Taiwan, a move that could play into the on-going race between the two nation’s militaries. According to Politico, Mr Trump’s support of Taiwan is enough to cause Beijing to retaliate but has been conservative enough to prevent any kind of open warfare.

The relationship between Beijing and Taiwan under China’s “One Country Two Systems” policy has historically been a point of contention between Mr Trump and Mr Xi. Taiwan is an economic hub, and according to the Trump administration, Beijing’s increasing influence is threatening America’s economic interests in the region.


The US and China have also been entangled in a “technology war” that has recently seen Mr Trump sign executive orders hindering American tech companies’ ability to do business with China. The main target of Mr Trump’s orders has been Huawei. Mr Pompeo gave a speech in January in Silicon Valley calling for US technology companies to stop all business with companies that could give an advantage to the Chinese military or any business that will assist in the “regime’s grip of repression” or the “creation of a surveillance state.”

Mr Trump’s campaign against Chinese technology started as a way to protect America from national security threats, signing an executive order that allows the ban of any technology made by “foreign adversaries.” He claimed that the sharing of, or sale of technology with China could provide Beijing with a military advantage, including the development of facial recognition software that could contribute towards the creation of a surveillance state. In response, China has started decreasing the percentage of parts they use from American manufacturers. According to members of the US tech community, the restrictions being placed on tech business with China have the potential to stall technological research and development around the world. Companies such as the RISC-V Foundation, a maker of smartphone technology, are moving research and production to Europe to avoid working through the US-China restrictions.


China’s dramatic economic growth in recent years has led to a rapid increase in the number of Christian missionaries being sent out. The economic impact of the coronavirus and the deteriorating economic relationship between China and the US, threaten this trend, as a nation’s missionary-sending abilities have historically been correlated to its economic stability.

During the 1980s the United States, along with other Western nations, sent thousands of Christian missionaries to China under various programmes that allowed foreigners to enter the country. This missionary force was able to help equip the Chinese ‘underground’ Church to send missionaries of its own. The fact that the Chinese government clamped down on foreign missionaries in recent years, coupled with pre-COVID economic growth, led to the development of the Chinese Church’s domestic and international missionary force that is no longer as dependent on foreign help.

Several Protestant Chinese churches have donated money to purchase face masks and disinfectants for those battling COVID-19 around the world, showing that despite geopolitical battles, the Church is working together to help those in need around the world.

The strained relationship between the United States and China will undoubtedly have an effect on global missions, however, the tremendous work the Church has put in over decades has equipped both nations to continue their Kingdom work.

Please pray with us:

  • For a breakthrough in US-China relations that will benefit both nations
  • For the Lord to continue to advance His Kingdom in the midst of the geopolitical tensions
  • For believers in both nations to continue building relationships, for His Glory