“China and the U.S. don’t have to have strained relations,” he said.
Many also appear worried that the trade war and the government’s tightening control over the private sector could halt or even reverse its progress. In a country only a couple of generations removed from starvation, the possibility doesn’t seem far-fetched to many. One 2017 post online, called “A Guide to Eating Tree Bark,” described how people in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia survived during the starvation of the Great Leap Forward. It has recently gone viral again, with more than 100,000 page views.
The two sides have plenty of reasons to distrust each other. The United States blames China for heavy job losses, theft of corporate secrets and cheating at the rules of global trade. China credits the hard work and sacrifices of its people for its success and sees the trade war as driven by American fears of a prosperous Chinese nation.
But the doves in China say both sides benefit from the relationship more than they admit. Foreign investors were early backers and inspirations for Chinese internet giants like Alibaba and Tencent, for example. And many American companies and investors have profited handsomely from China’s rise.
Those hoping for a deal worry that the Chinese government has fundamentally misjudged the Trump administration. At three top-level economic and monetary meetings in April, an economist at a Chinese investment bank said, government officials sent the signals that the leadership was optimistic about a trade deal.
Some people are resurrecting old articles online about the Chinese-American relationship that are now going viral. One of them was a January speech by Li Ruogu, a former chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China and former deputy governor of China’s central bank. Mr. Li argued that many Chinese, including some senior officials, didn’t realize that the relations had shifted fundamentally. The conflict wasn’t about the United States being threatened by China’s growth, he said, but by its vision of state-led capitalism.
“This is the conflict of systems,” he wrote. “It won’t end easily.”
Another popular, and subsequently censored, article had the headline “The Reasons Behind the Chimerica Breakup,” recalling the portmanteau coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick. The popularity of the article, whose author is anonymous, reflects a growing realization that the two countries’ conflicts go beyond trade and may not have an easy solution.
The article argues that China’s system of low human rights-based mercantilistic state capitalism negatively affected the pricing and wage structures in the United States and other developed economies. Now the United States wants China to change its economic growth model, the author argued, while China only wants to buy more American products to solve short-term trade imbalances.
“Chimerica parted ways on May 10,” the author wrote. “Now it’s time to decide whether to adopt the U.S. rules or the Chinese rules.”