These charts show the complexity of the U.S.-China relationship

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Photo by John Konno on Flickr.

From climate change to the trade deficit, here’s how data collected by the U.S. and Chinese governments highlight the complexity of the U.S.-China relationship.

The D-word

Last week Trump signed two executive orders aimed at reducing the trade deficit with China, by enforcing U.S. anti-dumping laws. The gap is currently $347 billion — just 20 years ago it was zero.


A deficit happens when a nation imports more than it’s exporting. In 2016, the U.S. imported $463 billion in goods from China, but only exported $116 billion to China.

In the chart below, the space between the green and brown lines shows you the trade gap.


What these numbers don’t show you are the U.S. goods that are sent to China for assembly and then returned to the U.S. These so-called “intermediate goods” are considered Chinese imports, even though the parts were actually made in the United States.

Oxford Economics and the U.S. China Business Council found that if the value of these goods were subtracted from China’s exports, the deficit would be cut in half.

While the deficit concerns politicians and economists, it’s not unique to the U.S. trade relationship with China.

The U.S. has a trade imbalance with many nations and regions around the world. The deficit with China is less than half the deficit that the U.S. has with the rest of the world.

Click on the chart below to view the trade balance with the United States’ top trading partners from 1999-2016.


Scale is important to note here. The U.S. economy, measured in gross domestic product, was $18.6 trillion in 2016 compared to China’s $10.8 trillion GDP in 2016.

The size of the U.S. economy allowed it to purchase $2.2 trillion in goods from around the world in 2015, while exporting $1.5 trillion to other nations.

In comparison, China imported $425 billion from other nations in 2015, while exporting $288 billion, according to data from the China Statistical Yearbook published by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

China has a trade deficit with the world, too — it reached $137 billion in 2015.



One way Trump hopes to reduce the deficit with China is tougher enforcement of protectionist tariffs against certain Chinese imports. The U.S. argues that some Chinese companies sell their products at lower prices in foreign markets than they do at home — an unfair practice known as dumping.

Of the current 300 antidumping orders that the U.S. has in place against other countries and regions, 109 of them are from China.

National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro has said that $2.8 billion in import taxes have gone uncollected since 2001, and that the Trump administration will institute new measures to collect on those duties, CNN reported.

The U.S. collected $34 billion in tariffs in 2015. More than 40 percent came from China, CNBC reported.

Many U.S. trade analysts warn that hiking tariffs, and stepping up enforcement, would likely raise the price of products that American consumers and businesses buy.

The conservative American Action Forum published a study showing prices of goods in the United States could increase by up to $250 billion annually under Trump’s plans.

The AAF believes Trump’s policy will increase goods purchased by a total of $1,649 per person in California, and $522 per person in New York.

An analysis by the Peterson Institute of International Economics concludes the poorest U.S. households will be hurt the most by Trump’s trade policies.

People who make less than $5,000 for example, would see a 12 percent increase in the price of goods they purchase, while people making $150,000 or more would see a 5 percent increase, the Peterson Institute found.


Foreign Direct Investment

U.S. investment in China far outweigh Chinese investments in the United States.

KFC, McDonalds, and Starbucks, for example, are common storefronts in China. And many of these businesses are wholly-owned by their U.S. parent company.

KFC had 5,003 stores in China in 2015, and 76 percent of them were owned by the Louisville, Ky. firm Yum! Brands. Starbucks also has 2,382 stores in China, with more than half owned by the Seattle-based company.


China’s U.S. investments have been growing. In 2015, China invested $15 billion in the United States.

U.S. corporations owned by Chinese parent companies include AMC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, General Electric Appliance Business, Smithfield Foods and Starwood Hotels.

Debt: The other D-word

China’s large holdings of U.S. Treasury securities also concerns the United States.

Japan surpassed China as the largest holder of U.S. debt at the end of last year. As of January 2017, Japan held over $1.1 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. China’s share of U.S. securities was more than $1 trillion, the U.S. Treasury Department reported.

As of April 6, the U.S. debt is now $19.8 trillion.


Climate change cooperation

In 2014, then U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping made headlines around the world when they agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the Paris climate talks.

But in June 2017, Trump announced that the United States was leaving the Paris Climate Accord.

China and the United states are the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses.


In his first federal budget proposal, Trump called for an end to U.S. contributions to the U.N. Green Climate Fund. This could effectively remove the U.S. from the Paris agreement to reduce emissions worldwide.

The U.S. had committed $3 billion to the fund, and has so far contributed $1 billion. Climate change could be a topic of conversation at the meeting between the Xi and Trump this week.

Getting to know each other

More Americans and Chinese are visiting each other’s countries.

Americans are the second largest group of visitors to China, behind Japan. Meanwhile, the Chinese were the fourth largest group of visitors to the United States behind Japan, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Canada.

Chinese tourists visiting the United States spent $30 billion in 2015, according to the International Trade Administration.


A huge U.S. “export” is higher education. Based on survey data from the International Educational Exchange, there were 304,000 Chinese college students in the United States in 2015, compared to 13,000 American students studying at Chinese universities.


Divided perceptions

A greater number of Chinese view the U.S. favorably than the other way around, the Pew Research Center found.

In a May 2016 survey of 3,200 Chinese, half viewed the U.S. favorably, compared to an April 2016 survey of 1,000 Americans where 37 percent viewed China favorably.

In a February-March 2017 Pew survey of 1500 Americans, 44 percent of participants viewed China favorably.



One thought on “These charts show the complexity of the U.S.-China relationship

  1. It looks like a lot of work went in to those charts and they show some good information. However, there are many Americans who need good manufacturing jobs to support their families and give them the standard of living they deserve. These American manufacturing jobs don’t just help their families, but they help the local communities too.

    It’s important to help create/preserve American manufacturing jobs by buying American made products.

    Buy American Campaign

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