China passed a significant milestone last fall: For the first time since its economic opening more than four decades ago, it traded more with developing countries than the U.S., Europe and Japan combined. It was one of the clearest signs yet that China and the West are going in different directions as tensions increase over trade, technology, security and other thorny issues.
For decades, the U.S. and other Western countries sought to make China both a partner and a customer in a single global economy led by the richest nations. Now trade and investment flows are settling into new patterns built around the two competing power centers.
In this increasingly divided world economy, Washington continues to raise the heat on China with investment curbs and export bans, while China reorients large parts of its economy away from the West toward the developing world.
Benefits for the U.S. and Europe include less reliance on Chinese supply chains and more jobs for Americans and Europeans that otherwise might go to China. But there are major risks, such as slower global growth—and many economists worry the costs for both the West and China will outweigh the advantages.
The strategies are growing harder to unravel as both sides sink more resources into them.
Chinese factories are replacing Western chemicals, parts and machine tools with those from home or sourced from developing nations. China’s trade with Southeast Asia surpassed its trade with the U.S. in 2019. China now trades more with Russia than it does with Germany, and soon will be able to say the same about Brazil.
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