MADISON, WISCONSIN – The deterioration in US-China relations is ultimately due to the bilateral trade imbalance and to US frustration with Chinese politics. Both can be traced back to China’s one-child policy, which was in place from 1980 to 2016.
When Western leaders welcomed China into the World Trade Organization in 2001, most assumed that they were creating the conditions for eventual democratization. A growing Chinese middle class, they assumed, would demand greater accountability from the government, ultimately creating so much pressure that the autocrats would step aside and allow for a democratic transition. This political fantasy underpinned the Sino-American relationship for decades.