If the U.S. Goes to War With China, There Will Be Massive Product Shortages

Color photo of a Made in China label on the back side of a dense piece of multicolored woven fabric.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have escalated from once-thriving diplomatic ties to a fierce trade war ignited by hefty tariffs. As these two superpowers teeter on the brink, what happens if they go into full-blown conflict? Could we face massive product shortages? 

If the U.S. goes to war with China, there will be massive product shortages, especially in pharmaceuticals, energy, microchips, and technology. U.S. industries will face raw material scarcities, and consumers will encounter empty retail shelves. Diversifying supply chains could mitigate these risks.

Every nation is interconnected. The globalization of trade and tourism has enriched our world, and despite the United States being one of the globe’s dominant economies, its dependence on key products from China is undeniable. Dive into this article to understand the profound implications of a potential conflict between the U.S. and China. 

What Are the Most Purchased Import Products By The U.S. From China

Color indoor photo of a beautiful interior decorated living room with a big screen TV and leather furniture.
A beautiful interior decorated living room with a big screen TV and leather furniture.

In 2022, the United States purchased 575 billion dollar’s worth of products from China according to Trading and Economics and the United Nations COMTRADE database.

The shortages the U.S. experienced during the Coronavirus of 2020-21 would pale in comparison to a military war with China and the world and are incomprehensible.

The top seven (7) U.S. Imports from China in 2022 totaled over 393 billion just by themselves.

Top Seven (7) United States Imports From China 2022Cost (Billions)
Electrical & electronics equipment$145.81
Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers$112.77
Toys & games$42.77
Vehicles other than railway, tramway$19.60
Articles of iron or steel$16.46
Citation: Trading and Economics-United States Imports from China-2023 Data 2024 Forecast 1991-2022 Historical.

Is the War Between the United States and China a Real Possibility?

Color outdoor photo of mutiple U.S. Military men in formation with camoflage uniforms with U.S. Flags on their shoulder patches.
Mutiple U.S. Military personel in formation with camoflage uniforms with U.S. Flags on their shoulder patches.

Recommended reading: Emergency Preparedness: What To Do If The U.S. Goes to War With China and Why After 9/11 Are Thousands Per Day Crossing U.S. Border Illegally?

Recent global events have shown that it looks more and more like a war between the United States and China might seem likely. The unexpected invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the attack on Israel by Hamas serves as a testament to the unpredictable nature of global politics. Such actions highlight the lengths some will go to advance their geopolitical objectives.

However, the resilience shown by Ukraine, which defied many predictions, is a testament to the unpredictability of war outcomes. The ongoing devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas further emphasizes the ever-present shadow of conflict.

“The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States says that America’s defense strategy and strategic posture must change in order to properly defend its vital interests and improve strategic stability with China and Russia.

The objectives of U.S. strategy must include effective deterrence and defeat of simultaneous Russian and Chinese aggression in Europe and Asia using conventional forces.”

The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States: America’s Strategic Posture 

In a recent article by Politico titled The Pentagon Is Freaking Out About a Potential War With China from June 2023. The mood of the article is panic and chaos. It conveys that the U.S. loses multiple war games with China due to its lack of military preparedness at the current moment.

Another Opinion On War With The U.S. and China and Russia

In March 2023, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, emphasized the importance of the United States maintaining its position as the most powerful nation on Earth to ensure peace with both China and Russia. 

Milley, acknowledged the challenges posed by these two major nuclear powers, whose interests often clash with those of the U.S. Yet, he was clear in stating that war with either nation is neither inevitable nor imminent.” If you agree or disagree with this assessment, either way it is a concern.

The fiscal year 2024 budget request of $842 billion is a testament to the U.S.’s commitment to ensuring its military remains the most lethal and capable force globally.” As Gen. Milley aptly put it, “There is nothing more expensive than fighting a war. Preparing for war will deter that war.”

In the broader context of global security, the U.S. continues to support its allies and partners, including the need for ongoing security assistance for Ukraine. The U.S. also remains vigilant regarding threats from other nations, such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and North Korea’s missile testing and nuclear weapons development. 

Why Exactly Would the United States and China Fight?

China’s recent actions, including its Belt and Road Initiative aimed at expanding its global influence, underscore its ambition to solidify a lasting global presence. 

Coupled with its continued manipulation of the free market—such as currency devaluation and intellectual property theft—and its assertive stance on the Taiwan issue, China’s moves are seen as direct challenges to the international order that the United States has long dominated.

Having been at the forefront of global leadership for decades, the United States is unaccustomed to such overt challenges. Many believe that the U.S. won’t stand idly by as a competitor rises, especially when that ascent involves practices that undermine global norms. 

Current discussions depict the US and China as two major powers vying for dominance, with specific flashpoints like the South China Sea, Philippines, Taiwan, and trade disputes further complicating their relationship.

These points of contention, combined with China’s ambitious projects and territorial claims, suggested by the U.S. Air Force that a“kind of war we have no modern experience with” between the two might be on the horizon as soon as 2025. If such a conflict arises, it’s likely to be prolonged and intense, with potential repercussions deeply affecting the citizens of both nations and the world at large. 

What Could the United States Lose if War Breaks Out?

Color photo of multiple home appliances including refrigerators, stove and oven, vacuum cleaner and microwave oven on a white background.
Multiple home appliances including refrigerators, stove and oven, vacuum cleaner, and microwave oven.

In the 1980s, the U.S. had the upper hand in a potential conflict with China, as China was heavily reliant on the U.S. for technology and manufacturing expertise. However, the tables have turned over the decades. 

China has not only become self-reliant and stolen many of those technologies from the U.S. but also has also established robust trade relationships across Asia, Latin America, India, and Africa. This diversification means that China’s dependence on the U.S. has been significantly reduced.

The U.S., on the other hand, is deeply intertwined with China economically. For example, a vast majority of goods in the U.S., from electronics and steel to toys, clothes, and furniture, are imported, with China being a primary supplier. 

The cost-effectiveness of these imports, due to lower labor costs in China, has made domestic manufacturing of such goods in the U.S. less viable. This economic dynamic makes the U.S. more reliant on China than vice versa.

Drawing a parallel from nature, one might liken the U.S. to an aging alpha wolf, once unmatched in its prowess but now slowing down. China, in contrast, is the younger, agile wolf, not yet as cunning but rapidly gaining strength. 

The economic interdependence between the U.S. and China is further complicated by investments. Chinese investments in U.S. sectors like biotech, stem cell research, and pharma are substantial. Simultaneously, U.S. hedge funds, representing a broad spectrum of American stakeholders, have poured money into promising sectors in China, such as clean energy, trains, and 5G.

China is also becoming a global leader in AI and super computer technology.

In essence, the U.S. and China are economically entwined to a degree where a complete separation would be catastrophic for both. The U.S. would feel the pinch more than China as the trade deficit was approximately $382.9 billion in 2022

If other nations were compelled to pick sides, the global ramifications could be devastating. The intricate financial and trade ties binding the two giants make any attempt to sever them a perilous endeavor, with both nations standing to suffer immense losses. 

Consider Wartime Maritime Trade

Black and white photo of the sinking R. P. Resor oil tanker torpedoed on Feb 28, 1942 off the coast of northern New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Bilby)
The sinking R. P. Resor oil tanker torpedoed on Feb 28, 1942 by a german submarine off the coast of northern New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Bilby)

During World War II, the German U-Boat and Japanese Submarines patrolled the oceans, looking for not only military vessels but also merchant cargo trade ships to torpedo. During a war, a key element is shutting down your adversary’s supply lines.

It is estimated that over 80% of the volume of the world’s goods is carried over the oceans and is the backbone of global trade. This is even more critical to underdeveloped countries than developed. Trade in the South China sea and Pacific would be under heavy attack and very difficult to get merchant shipping through.

If Taiwan makes 90 percent of the world’s leading edge semiconductors, how is most anything going to get built these days, especially during war? The global shortage of chips forced several U.S. automakers to halt vehicle production during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

How a U.S.-China Conflict Could Affect the Healthcare Sector

Color indoor photo of a hospital operating room with surgeon and support staff and nurses, all dressed in green scrubs and using electronic patient monitoring machines and overhead lighting.
A hospital operating room with surgeon and support staff and nurses, all dressed in green scrubs and using electronic patient monitoring machines and overhead lighting.

In 2019, China and the U.S. held a record 11 rounds of trade negotiations. However, the 11th round ended without consensus on key trade issues. This impasse not only heightened tensions but also led to significant tariffs on imports from both countries. Notably, both nations are interdependent when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

U.S. pharmaceutical firms heavily rely on Chinese suppliers for essential products, including:

  • Vaccines 
  • Packaged medicaments 
  • Organic cultures 
  • Organs 
  • Bandages 
  • Blood

In 2022, the US spent $10.3B on pharmaceutical imports from China, marking a staggering 485% increase from the $2.1B in 2020. While the U.S. primarily sources its medical supplies from Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland, it remains significantly dependent on China.

For example, bandages from China account for 40% of all pharmaceutical imports from the country. Additionally, China provides the U.S. with drugs that are ready for hospital and patient use.

In 2018, concerns arose when a significant number of vaccines supplied by Chinese manufacturers to the U.S. were found to be substandard. This revelation sparked fears about sourcing medical products from a nation with which the U.S. has strained relations. 

In response, the U.S. looked to India as an alternative vaccine supplier. However, this solution was not without its challenges, as Indian pharmaceutical companies source three-quarters of their advanced pharmaceutical ingredients for generic drugs from China.

While sourcing vaccines from India might increase costs for U.S. consumers, concerns about drug safety persist. In 2013, some Indian drug manufacturers were implicated in shipping adulterated drugs and having inadequate drug quality assurance programs. This situation underscores China’s importance as a reliable supplier for the U.S.

Any disruption in the supply chain, instigated by either the U.S. or China, could severely hamper the healthcare system. Essential treatments could be halted, putting countless lives at risk. A conflict with China could disrupt this crucial supply chain, with the repercussions deeply felt within the American healthcare sector. 

The Potential Impacts of a U.S.-China War on the Automotive Industry 

Color indoor photo of a automotive factory assembly line with robotic arm assembly devices and welders building cars.
A automotive factory assembly line with robotic arm assembly devices and welders building cars.

The automotive industry plays a pivotal role in both the U.S. and Chinese economies. In the United States alone, this sector supports over 1.7 million jobs.

Furthermore, the industry’s extensive network bolsters several smaller sectors, cumulatively accounting for roughly 8 million employment opportunities. The U.S. economy has grown to rely on the 4.5% Chinese contribution directly from the automotive sector, which, in turn, generates approximately $70 billion in tax revenue.

A significant aspect of this interdependence is the U.S.’s reliance on China for semiconductor chips. These chips are integral not only to vehicles but also to a range of electronic devices, including kitchen appliances, televisions, and mobile phones. 

A conflict between the U.S. and China could severely disrupt the automotive industry, leading to plummeting sales and a critical shortage of essential vehicle components. The limited availability of semiconductor chips would also ripple through sectors like banking and personal commerce.

The ramifications would extend to smartphone users, facing potential shortages of internet-enabled devices. Moreover, these chips drive the nation’s innovation, fueling advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence. A disruption in their supply could stifle numerous innovative industries. 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. sources 20% of its global chip needs from Taiwan, which also accounts for 90% of specialized chip production. Given these intertwined dependencies, both nations must avoid conflict at all costs. 

The United States Needs to Start Manufacturing Its Own Products Again

“Made in America” used to be the proud slogan and bywords of Americans. Today it is “Made in China” because it’s cheaper. It is critical after the supply chain shortages that were observed during the COVID-19 Pandemic that spur a new interest and necessity to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

If the United States does not produce its own semiconductors, bandages, and car parts, we are at a huge tactical disadvantage in the world. We will have shortages beyond the average American’s comprehension during another pandemic/epidemic wartime scenario.

From semiconductors to paper plates, the United States needs to bring manufacturing back home, as it is a life and death struggle.

Key Takeaways 

Discussing a potential war between the United States, China, Russia, or World War III delves into almost unimaginable territory. Such a conflict between these economic powerhouses would likely be conventional, regional, and technologically advanced. 

Beyond the tragic human toll, the U.S. would face severe disruptions in medical supplies, potentially paralyzing hospital operations and bringing the healthcare system to a standstill. 

The U.S. economy would grapple with a shortage of almost all products from China and the whole world, diminishing the capabilities of its citizens and the ability to sustain itself. 

You just don’t build factories and start manufacturing out of the blue with a population who knows nothing about it.

The United States needs to start manufacturing its own products again as soon as possible.


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John Mortensen

As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, geologist, or scientist. I became a project manager which is involved with many of those things. I am a project manager and tech writer who researches the latest alternative and green technologies. We write helpful articles about green electronics and green technology products. AI, extreme weather, electric vehicles, are all in our future and we want to know the best way to deal with the effects of these on the power grid and emergency preparedness. https://techevaluate.com/author-bio-page-john-w-mortensen/

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