Image: Harper Business

If you've ever wished you were a fly on the wall as top leaders in the U.S. and China were considering how to parry their counterparts' most recent moves, here's your big chance.

The big picture: "Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War" (HarperCollins, June 2020), by Wall Street Journal reporting duo Bob Davis and Lingling Wei, takes you behind the scenes of some of the biggest decisions over the past 25 years of the U.S.-China trade relationship.

Those moments include:

  • Bill Clinton's decision not to revoke China's most-favored nation status after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
  • China's entry into the World Trade Organization, the role of U.S. businesses as Beijing's biggest backers, and the sense of betrayal that human rights advocates felt at the time.
  • And of course, plenty of juicy detail about how both Trump and Xi, and their negotiators, hashed out tariffs, retaliations, strategy and concessions over the past three years.

Bonus: The book starts out with an incredible reveal, at least for those of us who have watched China for years: What Xi Jinping was really up to during the two weeks that he mysteriously disappeared in late 2012.

Zoom in: Each side of the current trade war suffered from a major misunderstanding of the other side.

  • "They think of the world like it's 1952 and the U.S. just won World War II," Davis told me in an interview. "But in 1952, the U.S. was more generous to the rest of the world."
  • "The biggest thing the Chinese side missed was how much of a change there was in Washington towards China," Wei said. "It wasn’t just the Trump administration, it wasn’t just Republicans. It crossed party lines. It took them quite a while to realize that."

The bottom line: Both the U.S. and China thought the trade conflict would be easier to resolve than it has been, Wei and Davis told me, because both sides overestimated the leverage they had over the other.

Go deeper: Wei, who was recently expelled from China along with a dozen other U.S. journalists, wrote a touching personal essay about her journey to becoming a U.S. citizen, returning to China to report, and now being forced to leave her family there.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 8, 2018 - Economy & Business

11 million U.S. workers are in the trade war's crosshairs

With an escalation in President Trump's trade war possible as early as Thursday, retaliatory tariffs threaten U.S. companies employing some 11 million workers, according to an Axios analysis.

Why it matters: Industries affected by the brinksmanship are mostly concentrated in rural, deeply red, already-struggling parts of the country, with political consequences for Trump and Republicans in 2018 and beyond.

Farmers hoping for more "Trump money" in 2020

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

U.S. farmers have been given a bit of a lifeline by the "phase one" U.S.-China trade deal, but without concrete specifics on what China will purchase there remains some worry about how they will be able to support themselves and their farms in 2020.

Background: Farmers had a rough 2019, even with a hefty subsidy package provided to them by the Trump administration as relief from the trade war.

Competitors ready to pounce on TikTok bans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Growing security and privacy concerns over Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok have given a lift to alternatives like Byte and Dubsmash, which have seen spikes in downloads from smartphone users recently, according to data from SensorTower.

Why it matters: If TikTok's meteoric rise in popularity among U.S. youth gets slowed by rising tensions with China, or ended by a threatened ban by the Trump administration, American teens will still have to get their hits of meme-laden video somewhere.