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Forget About Chips—China Is Coming for Ships

Forget About Chips—China Is Coming for Ships

How many of the thousands of ships docking every day at U.S. ports were built in the United States?

The answer may be surprising: U.S. shipyards manufacture fewer than 1 percent of the cargo vessels that ply the global seas. In March, U.S. labor unions decided that Washington had to take bold measures to support domestic shipbuilding and filed a petition to the U.S. trade representative, arguing that the industry’s poor state mostly reflects unfair Chinese practices, including massive subsidies. The unions have a simple proposal: Global shipping firms should pay a fee to dock at U.S. ports if they use Chinese-made vessels. On Wednesday, the Biden administration responded by launching an investigation into Chinese practices in the shipbuilding and maritime logistics sectors.

With around 80 percent of global trade carried by sea and U.S. politicians sensing an opportunity to court blue-collar workers ahead of this year’s elections, an investigation into Chinese shipbuilding practices could well reignite global trade tensions. Yet a closer look at China’s shipyards may also prove to be a useful exercise for Western policymakers: Beijing’s shipbuilding strategy has long been a perfect illustration of China’s playbook for the sectors that it has identified as critical in its Made In China 2025 industrial blueprint, including semiconductors, clean technology, and electric vehicles.

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 April 19, 2024