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As known by RealityChek regulars, the biggest question surrounding U.S.-China economic relations is probably whether the two countries will “decouple” their trade and investment relations with each other.

For several reasons, I’ve been pretty optimistic that the disentangling of the two big economies will continue and even speed up. These include the sizable decoupling progress that’s already been made; the strong and still growing criticisms of China’s behavior pretty much across the issue board by the American public and their leaders; the Biden administration’s surprising decision to continue most of the major Trump anti-China policies; and Beijing’s own determination to bring commercial entities often misleadingly described as “private” businesses even more completely under its thumb and make operating in China ever harder for foreign companies. (See, e.g., here and here.)

But after reading a summary of a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, I’m not so sure.

The organization, comprised of more than 1,300 companies, is one of the leading foreign business groups in the People’s Republic, and last month released its latest annual China Business Report. Among the key findings:

>77.9 percent of the 338 respondents said they were optimistic or slightly optimistic about their next five years in China – the highest such level since former President Trump’s trade war began in 2018.

>77.1 percent reported that their latest profits were higher than expected.

>More than 82 percent expected higher revenues this year than last year – which would represent growth levels “last seen before the worst days of the US-China trade war.”

>The share of respondents reporting annual growth in investment in China (59.5 percent) is also nearly back to 2018 levels (62 percent).

>And only 28 percent of responding manufacturers producing in China had any plans to move production out of the People’s Republic.

Meanwhile, even though its economy is experiencing major problems due largely to mounting energy shortages to an overly aggressive anti-pandemic policy to signs that its mammoth real estate sector will turn into an equally mammoth burst bubble, Wall Street seems more enthusiastic than ever about channeling capital to China.

Signs that decoupling is proceeding are by no means entirely gone. Data on U.S. direct investment (that is, investment in tangible assets like factories as opposed to financial investments like stocks and bonds) for 2021 aren’t available yet, but figures for last year (reported in the above linked RealityChek post) showed that two-way flows continued a decline that dated from before the pandemic slowed both economies dramatically. Moreover, China’s crackdown on its big tech entities has included discouraging them from listing on American stock exchanges.

We do have 2021 goods trade data, and through the first half of this year, U.S. imports from China remained a smaller share of the entire U.S. economy (0.51 percent of annualized gross domestic product) than in the first quarter of 2018 – the last pre-trade war quarter (0.61 percent). Interestingly, the export ratio has returned to those 2018 levels (0.16 percent).

Moreover, since the flow of people back and forth was another major measure of how the United States and China had been drawing closer together, it’s also worth noting evidence that even though overall foreign student applications to American colleges and universities have resumed rising, they’re falling from China.

Since I’m not clairvoyant, I’m not going to pretend to know whether decoupling will slow or stop or accelerate again. But this scenario seems at least plausible: Goods trade between the two countries will keep stagnating at best (especially if the bulk of the Trump tariffs stays in place, and if President Biden keeps expanding controls on defense-related tech exports); but unless the Biden administration puts new clamps on, flows of capital – especially from the United States to China – will keep picking up.

Moreover, as explained by a Financial Times columnist, not only will these investments greatly increase the resources available to China’s dictators. They will also inevitably help China “put its savings to good use.” Which means that U.S.-China commercial interactions could well boomerang in numerous dangeorous ways against Americans even more than they do already.