The short answer is politics. However, let’s look at the deeper issues making this trade war intractable.
Taiwan went through a process and is now an open democracy that gets along well with America. Why can’t China just follow Taiwan?
Taiwan faces huge pressure from China. They must succeed with being good friends with America, or China will gobble them up. Every Taiwanese voter knows this.
China has no such pressure. It is a big country and not used to listen to anyone.
Behind the Trade War are Many Pressures in China
The Chinese government faces pressure from many corners. Many Chinese people want China to be strong and stand up to America. (Make China Great Again) Many Chinese people want to get rich. Other Chinese people want a safety net. Many educated people see how the West runs and wonder why the Chinese government is not open to criticism for example. Chinese people are really not that different from us in what they want, so all governments are selfishly defending their citizens benefits.
Youtube is blocked in China. Why? China blocked Youtube in 2009 when the Uyghurs in Northwest China protested, and violence between the Han and the Muslim Uyghurs flared up, Most Chinese have never been to that remote area. The Chinese government showed Uyghurs beating up Han people and Chinese police very reasonably protecting the Han people from violent Uyghurs. Furthermore, Youtube was reactionary and mostly showed videos of Han people and Chinese soldiers beating up peaceful Uyghurs. The gap was big. So the Chinese government blocked any messaging that was not along the party line. They further blocked all internet and all messaging from that restive province for over a year. People there could only call on phone to outside.
The Chinese people want to hear that all the minorities love the Han and are super glad to be part of China. They want to believe they are a blessing to these poor minorities. The government gave then video proof that was true and that made the people happy and made them support the government cracking down on those ungrateful minorities.
At Minimum We Should Not Look Down on China
Did democractic open America do that?
In school 30 plus years ago, I learned that the last “battle” with the “Indians” took place in 1890 at Wounded Knee South Dakota. I further understood that the Indians attacked, and the good Americans fought back and defeated the violent Indians.
The truth is that the last rebellious Native Americans agreed while surrounded to turn in their rifles and accept reservation life on December 29th, 1890. They lined up to surrender. A few Native Americans started firing suddenly, and the soldiers went berserk and killed those few and every man, woman, and child they could find for miles around. Instead of punishing the soldiers, the US gave out 20 Medals of Honor to them. Only in the 1990’s over 100 years later did the US start to accept that it was not a battle but a massacre. US soldiers killed about 300 Native Americans. 20 plus US Soldiers were killed, and it appears likely that many were caused by the US army machine guns surrounding the site and raking the field.
However, no video existed then and most Americans were glad to see pictures of dead Indians. Some American soldiers in 1890 felt a massacre had occurred, and their reports were buried until recent years.
The Internet age meant that lots of repugnant videos existed that China wanted to stop. This was the same for the Americans at Wounded Knee. Only, they did not have to battle video and the internet in 1890.
America Could Not Have Done It
If the US President in 1890 had tried to apologize and uncover the massacre, he would have been run out of office. In the 1990’s America finally started to feel bad about Wounded Knee and other unfair things that happened to the Indians. Given this, 100 years from now, China may be able to apologize to the minorities.
In the 1990’s, the Americans fought with Serbia to give independence to Kosovo. There is no Chinese person wants to have world opinion turn against the Chinese desire to keep all the minority lands as part of China. The US in 1890 was certainly not ready to accept that the Europeans would come to protect the Indians.
China claims the whole South China Sea. Our friends in Taiwan claim the exact same amount and all the land that China claims. Should we fight with Taiwan about that?
Today, do Chinese people want to see the Chinese government bow to the Americans? I think not. Each side has their own hard to change political considerations, Both have very understandable limitations. See also China 5000 Years Different Than the West.
In the 1890’s America was infamous for over protecting domestic industry, violating copyrights of famous British authors, fake medicines, child labor, unfair treatment of Indians, and using our military to annex Hawaii. Our problem with China now is they are acting a lot like we did then.
Would Being a Democracy Help Solve Trade War?
Finally, China faces pressure to become a democracy at this stage of development. If China let off all pressure and became a democracy, would all be well here? This big country could become a mess like Russia did. That will not help us or make us more safe.
I hope we show as much wisdom as the British did when we Americans were acting bad long ago. The Trade War needs understanding and not just nationalism on both sides.