Is the U.S. pursuing the agenda of containing the economic development of developing countries? Under the WTO, countries like Vietnam and India should have favorable treatment, but recently the Trump administration decided to slap tariffs against India and Vietnam, which goes against the spirit of the WTO. Is the U.S. openly pursuing the agenda of containing the economic development of developing countries for its own economic benefits?

  • Can you define for us your view of "openly", please?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 14:09
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    I'd say that looking only at the president, and only at one president, does not really tell you about the United States as a whole.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 16:16
  • Michael Hudson writes on this theme. Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 19:46
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    When the US pursues free trade (e.g. Washington Consensus) it is accused of economic imperialism. When the US restricts trade it is accused of economic imperialism. I find the latter complaint a bit more strained though. How dare they not allow everyone free access to their ports, markets, and jobs. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 17:50

3 Answers 3



Reasons why I think that it's not about containing developing countries:

  • first on the list to hit with tariffs were actually developed countries like Canada or European Union members
  • from geopolitical perspective it makes no sense, as in order to contain China (which seems as logical goal for the US) one would rather have to beef up its rivals like... India or Vietnam
  • while it makes sense to seek some form of economical or political domination in smaller countries, unless they are hostile, it does not makes any sense to impede their growth (it would bring no clear gain, brings implicit cots for own businesses and just creates another enemy)

The US under Trump seems to be using threat of tariffs in order to get a bargain chip in trade negotiations. Not only tariffs were imposed, but in case of example Canada and Mexico they were even lifted.

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    Impeding the development of developing countries has been Western policy since the colonial era, and the US has fully embraced adopting the same policy since its earliest days. Developing countries are often called banana republics for a reason. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 9:39
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    @DenisdeBernardy Aren't you mixing up goal and potential side effects? I mean getting some generous concession is often the goal, while some potential damage to other economy is side effects of those concessions. // Nevertheless... Western policy??? How could you explain Meji restoration in Japan? Asian "Tigers"? Or rise of China under Deng Xiaoping?
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 10:01
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    I think you have a lot of things mixed up here. Why do Western economies still control the vast majority of world riches? Why are big tobacco companies suing small countries who implement reasonable public health measures. Why do US/Western-sponsored trade deals have clauses that allow them to sue on the basis that it hurts their business interests to begin with? Why do terms like "for/against the peace process" only ever mean whichever position is being advocating for/against by US/Western interests? (Try to provide even one example where it doesn't.) Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 10:15
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    @DenisdeBernardy Are you asking about the Great Divergence? For whole human history it was absolutely natural that the world was stagnant, while some fluke caused the West to develop faster than the rest and it still maintains part of the spoils? // Are any of those treaties comparative in the abuse potential to OPEC? // Are you asking me whether there is something suspicious that when you watch Western media, you get roughly Western perspective?
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 10:33
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    @Denis de Bernardy: How is a "banana republic" containing economic development? In the purely literal sense, it would seem to contribute to economic development. Instead of pure subsistence agriculture, the BR exports something - bananas - to the US, which it wants but can't really produce itself. The BR gets money, which it can then exchange for US goods. How's that different from say the Japanese taking a large share of the US automobile market because they're able (or willing) to build better cars than US automakers?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 18:02

(As this was asked during the Trump administration, I'll provide quotes from that time frame.)

Openly yes in some respects, namely "technological leadership", if restricting the flow of technology (especially towards China) qualifies as "containing the economic development", e.g. in 2020

the U.S. banned foreign companies from selling material to Huawei if they used any U.S. inputs – even very minimal U.S. inputs. That’s kind of a remarkable extraterritorial action on the part of the United States. It was aimed, by the way, at a Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing company which is an important supplier of microchips designed by other companies. So the design might be Huawei’s own design, but TSMC makes it, but it could avoid doing business with Huawei in the future fearing American retribution.

And even mere participation of US companies in China (especially in the high tech sector) was seen as bad and a target for reduction:

A "vast expansion" in U.S. multinational business activity in China since 2000 may threaten American industrial competitiveness and long-term tech leadership, a new report by a congressional U.S.-China advisory commission found [...]

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned that rapid moves by U.S. companies away from manufacturing in China and into higher-value activities such as research and development could be "unwittingly enabling China to achieve its industrial policy objectives." [...]

"These industries ... may indirectly erode the United States’ domestic industrial competitiveness and technological leadership relative to China," it said, urging Congress to take steps to preserve U.S. innovative capacity and leadership.

And this was (openly) motivated by the fact that at least China was viewed as having political goals tied to its economic ones:

“The Chinese have long been a commercial people, but for China, purely economic success is not an end in itself,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a speech this month. “It is a means to wider political and strategic objectives.”

And even some trade advisers from prior administrations agreed that a trade reduction for the goal of preserving US technological advantage was worth it:

“You can’t avoid paying that price,” said Clyde Prestowitz, a former Reagan administration official who led trade negotiations with Japan and China. “Your only choice is to pay it now or later. Now, you still have a cutting-edge industry that will take a hit, but that can survive and prosper if high tech does not become a Chinese playground.”

This should not be a surprise because e.g. the DOD said (in the same time frame) the obvious thing that:

America's economic and military dominance lies in innovation.

N.B. there has been some argument (from Trump administration) that China is not a developing country anymore, so in their view this restriction wasn't towards a developing country...



The USA, following its ideology of neoliberalism, or market fundamentalism, relaxed the rules of capital flows. Hence capital flowed to where there was a large pool of cheap labour.

This recently was China. China has obviously benefited enormously from this, having lifted, by all accounts, 750 million from poverty and turned itself into a global economic powerhouse which is attempting a neo-Keynisian policy of lifting up the developing world with its Belt & Road initiative.

Note, none of this was from altruism on the part of the USA. They were simply going for the cheapest labour. Now that China has developed into an economic rival, and also importantly, a technological rival, the USA, beginning from the Trump administration, is attempting to corral in China.

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