China Ends 60+ Years of US World Trade Dominance, Takes #1 Spot

February 11th, 2013

Since the end of World War 2, the United States has been a world trade superpower, conducting the highest volume of trade with the largest number of nations each year. However, this 60-plus year winning streak officially ended in 2012. Russia Today is reporting that China recently surpassed the US as the world’s top trading partner.

The United States, set back by years of economic distress, slipped behind China’s growing economy. Is this disturbing sign representative of a greater trend? How will China’s strong economy affect geopolitics? In what ways will this new impetus affect American alliances, as trading partners become dependent on Chinese goods and consumers?

The Geopolitics of Global Trade

Nations rarely go to war with each other when they are economically dependent on one another. For example, Iran’s relationship with China and Russia generally prevents the UN Security Council from supporting military intervention in an effort to stop the oil-rich nation’s alleged nuclear program.

The US has always benefited from its high volume of international trade. Nations want to remain on our good side to keep the dollars and goods flowing. China, however, traded $3.87 trillion in goods last year to the US’ $3.82 trillion. China’s consumers are buying the largest number of new cars and are thus using more energy than other nations, and its businesses are leading in exports. Will European nations begin weighing China’s interests as heavily as those of the United States from now on when it comes to matters of foreign policy?

Dual Hegemony?

Could it be possible that China’s rise will lead to a new period of dual hegemony? During the Cold War, most nations allied with either the United States or the Soviet Union. With two massive superpowers at opposite political poles, military strikes carried the risk of unleashing a World War.

China has been working hard to secure resource contracts in the Middle East and Africa. Also, it has joined with Russia to speak out against potential US interventions into Syria and Iran. As European countries begin to expand their trade relationships with China, should we expect them to start moderating their foreign policy positions between these two poles of power?

When nations are dependent upon one another for trade, war breaking out between them becomes a less likely outcome. China’s foreign policy perspective, which often serves as a foil whenever the United States calls for intervention, may even influence America’s European allies.

Dual hegemony might be a force for good with respect to global geopolitics. The more peaceful, trade-based interests leaders consider during an emerging conflict, the less likely they are to look to a violent solution. The current situation in Iran is a great example of this — the US might have already carried out military strikes were it not for the maneuvers of Chinese and Russian warships in the region.

However, this new trade trend is a bad sign for the US economy. For six decades, the world has looked to the United States as a leader in commerce. Now, after struggling for several years under economic strain, American world trade stats are barely treading water and sinking fast.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.