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The Return of International Politics – Cooperation and Conflict in U.S-China Trade Relations

Tanja Schweinberger


This dissertation explores the complex dynamics of trade tensions between the United States and China and their implications for bilateral cooperation as well as the broader liberal international order.

The study highlights the pivotal role of power shifts in shaping US-China trade cooperation. As China’s relative economic strength grows, expectations regarding future benefits and losses evolve accordingly. Trade imbalances become politicised and affect the willingness to engage in cooperative trade; That means since deficits are increasingly perceived as weaknesses, not least by the American public, this politicisation emphasises the importance of fostering mutual understanding to avoid hostility. Interestingly, the research uncovers that China’s population seems to look more favourably on bilateral cooperation.

Moreover, the research underscores the crucial role of reliability in the context of bilateral cooperation. Unreliability and violation of agreed-upon trade rules – whether this behaviour is perceived or factual – contribute to eroding trust. Resulting confrontational attitudes can further hinder cooperation.

In consequence, the dissertation stresses the commitment to international trade rules, in particular those established by the World Trade Organization (WTO). By highlighting the importance of a rules-based trading system, the research aims to reinvigorate support for bilateral cooperation and promote stability in the global order.

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