The Sino-American Codependency Trap

NEW HAVEN – Increasingly reliant on each other for sustainable economic growth, the United States and China have fallen into a classic codependency trap, bristling at changes in the rules of engagement. The symptoms of this insidious pathology were on clear display during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to America. Little was accomplished, and the path ahead remains treacherous.

Codependency between America and China was born in the late 1970s, when the US was in the grips of wrenching stagflation, and the Chinese economy was in shambles following the Cultural Revolution. Both countries needed new recipes for revival and growth, and turned to each other in a marriage of convenience. China provided cheap goods that enabled income-constrained American consumers to make ends meet, and the US provided the external demand that underpinned Deng Xiaoping’s export-led growth strategy.

Over the years, this arrangement morphed into a deeper relationship. Lacking in saving and wanting to grow, the US relied increasingly on China’s vast reservoir of surplus saving to make ends meet. Anchoring its currency to the dollar, the Chinese built up a huge stake in US Treasuries, which helped America fund record budget deficits.

America provided China with both stability and growth anchors. China enabled the US to sidestep the mounting perils of subpar saving, reckless fiscal policy, and weak household income growth.