‘Barbarising’ China in American trade war discourse: The Assault on Huawei

Yongjin Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
84 Downloads (Pure)


How is the legitimation of the American trade war with China discursively managed and conferred in recent American political discourse? This paper critically examines this under-explored question in the current literature. Taking cues from critical international theory and its insight on discourse and foreign policy, I start by historicising the discursive practices, which I call ‘barbarising China’, in the construction of civilisation vs barbarism as a hierarchical opposition. Mapping authoritarian China onto this historically contingent liberal civilisational edifice, I argue, has prepared the ground for American political action in the trade war. Through a critical analysis of how China has been constructed as a ‘barbarian’ economic aggressor in recent American political discourse, I further argue that the ‘political reality’ and ‘knowledge’ this
discursive practice produces serves not only the political imperative of legitimising American trade war policy choices, but also a particular need of the ‘civilised’ hegemon to legitimise its power and practices beyond the trade war. Through a close examination of a coordinated assault on Huawei, I illustrate how ‘barbarising’ China has been discursively done as an integral part of the trade war and assert that ‘barbarising’ China has become indispensable in American strategy to sustain its precarious hegemony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1436-1454
Number of pages19
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number7
Early online date22 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 13th Pan-European Conference on International Relations at Sofia, Bulgaria, in September 2019. I thank in particular Peter Wilson for his critical and constructive comments on this paper at and after the panel discussions. I also express my thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments on and thoughtful suggestions for the revision of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Global South Ltd.


  • Trade war
  • US-China policies
  • discursive legitimation
  • barbarism
  • Huawei
  • civilisation


Dive into the research topics of '‘Barbarising’ China in American trade war discourse: The Assault on Huawei'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this