ISLAMABAD (DAWN / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Dr Henry Kissinger warns that turbulent relations between the United States and China are bearing the seeds of war.
President Joe Biden describes the ties between the two as “extreme competition” and not as conflict. The latest US intelligence report makes China the number one threat to US national security.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the relationship with China has three aspects: adversarial, competitive and cooperative.
Senior Chinese officials are warning Washington against engaging in a new cold war and stress that the two countries have more to gain from cooperation.
US officials ignore the Cold War analogy and say they are not looking to contain China. Many Western analysts see a fierce struggle rather than a cold war between the economic and technological superpowers.
How to consider these different characterizations? What do they represent for the future of the world’s most important relationship? How are other countries reacting to this impasse?
Will these world powers be able to achieve a reset or will their confrontation become an enduring feature of the international landscape?
The general expectation that Sino-US relations would be less strained in the post-Trump era has not materialized.
Basically, perhaps less tone, the approach of the Biden administration marks a continuity with the policies of Mr. Donald Trump. The first indications of this came from the first diplomatic engagement between them in March.
This deserves to be remembered for his understanding of the position of the two countries. Violent exchanges followed at the Anchorage meeting when Mr. Blinken raised his country’s “deep concerns” about China’s actions in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, its cyber attacks and its “economic coercion” towards the American allies.
Responding to his remarks, the senior Chinese diplomat responded bluntly, saying the United States could no longer speak to Beijing from a position of strength and that it could hardly lecture others given its treatment of Native Americans and when faced with race issues at home and loss of public trust. in its democracy.
As for Mr. Blinken’s claim that he is speaking on behalf of the international community, Mr. Yang Jiechi said that the United States does not represent world opinion and neither does the West.
Despite these difficult messages, Chinese diplomats insisted that the new world situation warrants a cooperative relationship between the two countries.
They cited President Xi Jinping’s view of relations: “No conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win.” This has not elicited a positive response from the United States.
On a bumpy start, relationships did not go into reset mode over the following months. Far from normalizing, they remained tense.
While China’s interest lies in defusing tensions and establishing peaceful relations to enable them to manage disputes, the United States has continued to stir up tensions through its aggressive stance.
In fact, the only difference between the Trump approach and that of Mr. Biden is that the latter is trying to bring allies and countries together to join the United States in countering China.
For example, the United States took advantage of the recent G7 meeting to mobilize a united front against Beijing. The G7 statement criticized China on human rights, its policy in Hong Kong and supported Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO).
Another example is the so-called Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the United States) that Washington is lining up to take on China.
Why is the Biden administration taking this position?
For several reasons. First, it reflects the anti-Chinese mood and bipartisan consensus in America that sees Beijing as an adversary whose growing power must be balanced.
Mr. Trump’s demonization of China as a manipulative economic power that engaged in unfair trade practices became a national discourse and set the context for the Biden administration’s approach.
Moreover, the Republican Party’s constant attacks on Mr. Biden for being “gentle” on China have also fashioned a more hawkish stance than his administration might have taken otherwise.
But because US companies see China as an attractive economic opportunity, continue to do lucrative business there, and banks want to expand, US officials are forced to recognize the âcooperativeâ aspect of the relationship.
But by merging this with an adversarial dimension, Washington appears to be taking an inconsistent or schizophrenic approach that contributes to turbulent relations with China.
US actions to counter China are also a classic response of an established superpower to the rise of a new world power challenging its dominance.
It has been a common occurrence throughout history when the dynamics of power have fundamentally changed. The fear of an economic and technological rival and its growing global reach created insecurities that are reflected in American behavior today.
Yet there are limits to the extent to which Washington can escalate tensions. As Mr. Andrew Bacevich, President of the Quincy Institute writes, “China today produces almost anything that American consumers want to buy, which we do with money pleasantly loaned by Chinese banks.” .
“In Washington, denouncing Beijing’s authoritarianism can be a good line of applause. Yet the reality is that our two nations are interdependent.”
Limits are also imposed by the half-hearted response from countries Washington is courting for its anti-China alliance.
Even close European allies, whose economic actions are linked to China, hesitate to be drawn into such a coalition. Mr Biden told the Munich conference in April that the United States and its allies face “long-term strategic competition” with China and must resist its “economic abuse and coercion.”
But Europe, and even less the rest of the world, does not see it the same way. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it openly, Japan is reluctant to sanction Beijing and other Asian countries are even less willing to join a coalition to contain China. We have to see if this reality pushes the United States towards a policy of conciliation.
Beijing has shown a great deal of patience with the aggressive conduct of the United States, but a more confident China has also fended off what it perceives as American harassment and intimidation.
Growing nationalist sentiment in the country means that Beijing will continue to act confidently, even as it seeks a calmer cooperative relationship with the United States.
As President Xi recently said at the Boao Forum, any economic decoupling between the two world powers would be to the detriment of the world.
While forecasts of a conflict between the two countries are clearly exposed, the world’s most critical bilateral relationship is likely to remain on an unstable trajectory at least in the short term.
- The writer is a former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Britain and the UN. The newspaper is a member of Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organizations.