Recent developments in the U.S.-China trade war, particularly on issues of digital trade, reflect the deficiencies of international law. Specifically, recent unilateral actions by both sides show how multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization are ill-equipped to handle issues of global governance relating to digital technology. These actions include the most recent round of unilateral U.S. tariff increases on Chinese imports, as well as China’s response — such as retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods.

In the tech arena, the mandated sale of U.S. firms Grindr and Patientslikeme by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States by their Chinese investors, as well as President Donald Trump’s executive order last week — giving the U.S. government more control over any sale of U.S. technology related to the intentionally vaguely defined areas of national security or the digital economy — all reflect this growing interventionist approach by the U.S. government.

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