The Next Round of Escalation in the Global Trade War


After negotiations ended without results, the U.S. imposes new tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing retaliates


by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 13 May 2019,




The latest meeting between representatives of the two biggest imperialist Great Powers embroiled in a discussion of economic differences has ended, once more, without a deal. As a result, the Trump administration increased on 10 May duties on $200bn of Chinese imports from 10% to 25%. The administration had already hit $50bn of additional Chinese goods with the 25% duties. (1)


In retaliation, Beijing announced on 13 May tariffs between 5% and 25% on 5,140 US-originated products effective June 1, according to a statement released by the Customs Tariff Commission of China’s State Council. They’re part of $60bn worth of US goods that were initially targeted last year after the first round of tariffs imposed by Washington. Most of those products will be hit with a new tariff of 25%, while others will rise to 10% or 20%. (2)


Furthermore, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Beijing’s English-language mouth piece, Global Times, reported that Beijing is also considering both halting the purchase of US agricultural products as well as slashing orders for new Boeing planes. Both measures would seriously impact the U.S. economy. (3) There are also discussions in Beijing about the possibility of China dumping its large holdings of US Treasury bonds. (4)


Reacting to this news, global stock markets are suffering major losses. (5)


This is only the latest escalation in the accelerating rivalry between the two Great Powers. It should not come as a surprise to any observer. As we have explained repeatedly, this economic war has much more fundamental causes than the buffoonery of Donald Dumb or the authoritarian nature of the Xi regime. It is rather a result of the fundamental antagonism between the two most powerful imperialist states. On one hand, there’s the U.S., the absolute capitalist hegemon since WWII that is now confronting both its economic and political decline. On the other hand, there’s China, the emerging imperialist Great Power that has risen as the most powerful challenger to previous, unquestioned, U.S. dominance. (6)


For this reason, the clashes between these two rivals in the struggle for world hegemony must inevitable accelerate. Of course, temporary compromises are possible and will take place. There is no war without periods of truce. However, the fundamental antagonism between the interests of the imperialist powers will drive them inevitable to accelerate their rivalry, on the economic, the political and, ultimately, also on the military terrain.


We do not intend to repeat our comprehensive analysis of the Global Trade War that we’ve reviewed in a number of documents over the past 12 months. (7) We limit ourselves to a few, germane observations.




Another proof of China as an imperialist Great Power




First, it is important to bear in mind that this latest escalation of the Global Trade War (that began approximately 12 months ago) takes place against the backdrop of a looming Great Recession in the world economy. These latest developments can only contribute to that emerging crisis. (8)


Second, Marxists must conclude that China’s willingness to sustain a determined defense of its conflicting economic interests demonstrates very clearly that is has entered the ranks of imperialist Great Powers.


We have no illusions that those Stalinists, Chavistas, and pseudo-Trotskyists who claim China to be a “socialist country”, a “progressive force” or some kind of “workers state” would understand this. They are lost. They are “socialists” in words and social-imperialists in deeds. They are servants of a Great Power and as counter-revolutionary in their orientation as various pro-US or pro-EU social democrats.


However, there are a number of sincere Marxists who understand (incompletely) the capitalist character of the Chinese regime. However, as we analyzed in detail in our latest book on the Great Power rivalry, they wrongly refuse to recognize the imperialist character of China. They mistakenly view it as something qualitatively different and weaker and use descriptors such as “semi-colonial” or “sub-imperialist”. Again, we will forgo a repetition of our analysis demonstrating that China has become a major capitalist power. We merely limit ourselves to challenging these comrades to explain, in detail, how a non-imperialist country could sustain a major trade war with the biggest imperialist power for the last year without a significant breakdown of its economy?




Bernie Sanders: Supporter of U.S. Protectionism




Thirdly, the current Global Trade War shows the true character of various so-called progressive forces. This is not only true for the pro-Chinese Stalinists and semi-Stalinists. It is also true for a significant part of the US-American left. Various organizations – from the “Communist Party” to the CWI’s “Socialist Alternative” – have expressed their support for the 2020 presidential candidacy of US Senator Bernie Sanders. Last year, Sanders launched, together with Yanis Varoufakis, an international initiative called the “Progressive International. (9)


The current Global Trade War demonstrates, as Marxists have repeatedly pointed out, that Sanders is a dyed-in-the-wool standard bearer of US imperialism and promotes a protectionist crusade against its Great Power rival, China. (10)  Sanders attacked Donald Trump for undermining relations with the Western imperialist allies while simultaneously demanding sanctions against China, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam.


Donald Trump’s haphazard and reckless plan to impose tariffs on Canada and the European Union is an absolute disaster that will cause unnecessary economic pain to farmers, manufacturers and consumers in Vermont and throughout the country. "I strongly support imposing stiff penalties on countries like China, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam to prevent them from illegally dumping steel and aluminum into the U.S. and throughout the world. (11)


In his recently unveiled trade platform, Sanders calls for both Trump and all of his Democratic Party competitors to pledge to renegotiate U.S. trade deals and label China a currency manipulator. (12)


In recent days he attacked President Trump, not from an internationalist, anti-imperialist point of view, but rather for not being protectionist enough! He also criticized the former Vice-President, Joe Biden, for being too soft on China: “It’s wrong to pretend that China isn’t one of our major economic competitors. When we are in the White House we will win that competition by fixing our trade policies.” (13)


Of course, Sanders is packaging his protectionist support for US imperialism in “pro-workers” rhetoric. However, the authentic struggle for the true interests of U.S. workers can only be pursued by organizing and mobilizing them directly against the attacks of the bosses who are exploiting them, i.e. first and foremost, the U.S. capitalists. The interests of American workers can never be defended in a treacherous alliance with the American bosses against China!




Class Struggle Internationalism versus Imperialist Globalization and Protectionism!




The fact that large sectors of the U.S. left flirt with supporting the Sanders campaign reflects their adaptation to pro-U.S. social-imperialism. Naturally, the pro-Russian/Chinese left is not better. The international working class urgently needs a program of struggle that does not accommodate itself with either imperialist camp. By contrast, it needs a socialist and internationalist response. It needs a program of consistent class struggle opposition against all imperialist powers. It needs a program that unconditionally supports the struggle of the world’s workers and oppressed people against all Great Powers and their local lackeys. (14)


Revolutionaries must oppose the Global Trade War in all of its multiple iterations. They must oppose imperialist globalisation as well as imperialist protectionism. The answer can only be a perspective of consistent class struggle on an international basis. The American as well as the Chinese states and bosses are our enemies under each and every circumstance! At the same time, the American as well as the Chinese workers and oppressed are our brothers and sisters under each and every circumstance! (15)


This is the programmatic basis on which the RCIT calls on activists around the world to join us in building a Revolutionary World Party!






(1) See on this e.g. Paul Wiseman: Trump’s tariffs on China: What are they? How do they work? 2019-05-11; Paul Wiseman, Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller: US-China relations near new low amid trade battle, 2019-05-11; Paul Wiseman and Kevin Freking: US-China talks break up after US raises tariffs, 2019-05-11; Owen Churchill and Robert Delaney: No resolution as US-China trade war talks end and Beijing delegation reportedly prepares to leave Washington, 11 May, 2019; Rishi Iyengar: The US-China trade war is escalating. The coming days are crucial, CNN Business, May 10, 2019; Trump says talks with China will continue as trade war escalates, 2019-05-10; Ben Blanchard: China says will 'never surrender' as U.S. trade row heats up, May 12, 2019 /; China defiant as Trump adviser admits US consumers pay tariffs, 2019-05-13; Joe McDonald: Companies bracing for China’s retaliation in tariffs dispute, 2019-05-13


(2) See on this e.g. Global Times: China retaliates Trump tariffs with tit-for-tat raise on US goods, 2019/5/13




(4) See on this e.g. Chu Daye: China should hit back smartly at US. American consumers and manufacturers to feel acute pain: analysts, Global Times 2019/5/12; Karen Yeung: Will China use its US$1.2 trillion of US debt as firepower to fight the trade war? South China Morning Post, 10 May, 2019; David Dodwell: No trade deal? Why China should walk away and hit back at the US, in the sectors where it really hurts, 13 May, 2019; Orange Wang: China is a ‘kung fu master’ and can deliver ‘deadly punch’ to US economy in trade war, ex official says, 13 May, 2019  


(5) See on this e.g. Mark DeCambre: Dow, S&P 500 set for worst May tumble in nearly 50 years amid U.S.-China trade clash, May 13, 2019


(6) See on this e.g. our recently published book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019. The book can be read online or downloaded for free here: In addition the RCIT has published a number of documents on the Great Power rivalry and the rise of China and Russia as new imperialist powers. They are collected at a special sub-page on our website:


(7) See on this e.g. Joint Statement: Global Trade War: No to Great Power Jingoism in West and East! Neither Imperialist Globalization nor Imperialist Protectionism! For International Solidarity and Joint Struggle of the Working Class and Oppressed People! 4 July 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War is Escalating. Trump’s new Tariffs on about $200bn worth of Chinese Imports Reflect the Accelerating Rivalry between the Great Powers, 19 September 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry (Chapter VI. The Acceleration of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry and the Global Trade War),; Yossi Schwartz: Capitalist Trade and the Looming 3rd World War, 15 July 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War has Begun. What is its Meaning and what should be the Response of Socialists? 13 July 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: Where Do Socialists Stand in Face of the Looming Global Trade War? A Showcase of the Practical Consequences of the Assessment of the Class Character of the Chinese State, 17 June 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018, Our documents on the Global Trade War are collected at a special sub-page on our website:


(8) See on this e.g. RCIT: World Perspectives 2019: Heading Towards a Volcanic Political Eruption. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 2 March 2019, (Chapter: World Economy: The Next Great Recession is About to Begin)


(9) See on this e.g. Bernie Sanders: A new authoritarian axis demands an international progressive front, 13 Sep 2018; Yanis Varoufakis: Our new international movement will fight rising fascism and globalists, 13 Sep 2018; Luis Martín: Bernie Sanders & Yanis Varoufakis call for Progressive Front against Trump’s Neo-Fascist International, Open Democracy 09/19/2018


(10) For a Marxist assessment of Bernie Sanders and the “left wing” of the Democratic Party see e.g. Yossi Schwarz: Why Not to Vote for the Democratic Party in the Forthcoming US Elections Or At Any Other Time, 2.3.2016,; Yossi Schwartz: Once Again: Opportunism of US Left Exposed. An Analysis of the US 2016 Elections Campaign, 14 August 2016,; Michael Pröbsting: The Meaning, Consequences and Lessons of Trump‘s Victory. On the Lessons of the US Presidential Election Outcome and the Perspectives for the Domestic and International Class Struggle, 24.November 2016,


(11) Sanders Statement on Trump Tariffs, June 1, 2018


(12) Jacob Pramuk: Bernie Sanders unveils trade platform challenging Trump’s China policy, Apr 29 2019


(13) Jacob Pramuk: Bernie Sanders slams Joe Biden for downplaying China’s economic threat to the US, May 2 2019


(14) We refer readers in this context to the RCIT’s: Open Letter: Great Tasks demand Great Initiative! A Call to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists to Fulfill Our Responsibility in this Historic Time! 7 January 2019,


(15) See on this e.g. RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States, 8 September 2018,