Free speech vs censorship: The cultural conflict at the heart of China-US trade wars through history

A Sino-US trade war emerges every few years, and Sino-US trade negotiations have reached a critical juncture yet again. For more than a century, trade talks have coalesced around insufficient protection for US intellectual works in China, including piracy, and this time is no different.

Trade friction between the two nations originated toward the end of Qing Dynasty, China’s last feudal government, and persists today. An underlying factor is the Chinese government’s rigorous censorship of imported cultural products, an irreconcilable challenge to free speech in the United States. Since 1791, the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects free speech. Over the last century, the US Supreme Court has regularly privileged the protection of free speech against other rights and interests, including privacy and national security. This is a judgment value.

The First Amendment is also geared toward ensuring equitable conflict between individual speech and government power. The influential case of