Updated: Jan 19
The United States and China’s relationship has never been worse in the last four decades, since President Nixon normalized the relationship between the two countries. Both nations are increasingly opposing each other on a wide range of matters from trade, to human rights and Covid-19.
These tensions are placed within a clear paradigm. China’s economic and political influence are rising and are challenging US’s hegemony. To avoid a cold war (that could be far worse than the previous one) both countries need to accept their differences and find common grounds to collaborate.
Their relationship has sharply deteriorated since the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016. Since his entry, he has rightfully accused China of commercial malpractices from their huge trade deficit to the stealing of intellectual property. As a consequence, US has been waging a trade war against China since 2018.
Their differences have also translated into a technological war. The United States has, in recent years, targeted the Chinese company Huawei, a network telecommunication provider, by banning it from developing 5g networks and by pressuring US allies to follow suit. On the August 17, the US has given 5 weeks to the popular Chinese app Tik Tok to sell its US operations; or, face a national ban.
Another contentious issue between both nations has been China’s poor records on human rights. China has recently implemented a new national security law in Hong Kong which violates the semi-democratic status that the island has enjoyed since its handover from the UK in 1997. Also, in the Western province of Xinxiang, Chinese authorities are currently interning more than 1 million people. On top of that, the mishandling and the initial cover-ups of the spread of the Covid-19 in Wuhan have been met by fierce criticisms by the Trump administration. All these sticking points have led to an escalation of the tensions. The American government has ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston and, as a consequence, had to close its own in Chengdu. The Trump administration even contemplated in the last few months to impose a travel ban to the United States to the 92 million members of the Chinese communist party.
The growing tensions between both nations follow a logical pattern. The United States is the biggest economic power since the beginning of the 20th century. However, this long-lasting dominance is threatened by China. The country is rapidly growing and is projected to overtake the US by the end of the next decade. Due to the economy, China’s political influence has risen as well. China has become increasingly influential in many international institutions such as the United Nations. The head of 4 out of the 15 U.N. specialized agencies are Chinese nationals.
In 2013, China has launched the ‘One Belt and Road Initiative’. It is an ambitious program that aims to increase trade exchanges between Asia, Africa, and Europe. The project covers 70 countries, 65% of the world’s population, and represents one-third of the GDP. Over time, this region could become the neuralgic center of the world economy. Nevertheless, these tensions are also explained by the ideological differences between both countries. The US is a representative democracy based on freedom and the rule of law whereas China is a centralized authoritarian regime. The opposition between these two systems of governance is already visible in the international stage with China which is increasingly challenging the liberal world order established by the US following the Second World War.
The recent escalations have made the international community worried about a possible new ‘Cold War’ which would be far worse than the previous one. Unlike the Soviet Union, China is the most populated nation in the world, its economy is robust, and its military strength is rising. As the trade war has already demonstrated, both countries’ tensions can dramatically impact the world economy. This is exactly what the world doesn’t need given the current economic turmoil.
As they are here to stay, both nations need to co-operate, accept their differences, and settle their disputes through international mechanisms. Instead of trying to prevent China’s rise by attacking its companies and blocking its innovations, the US should embrace it. Either way, the country will continue to rise whether America accepts it or not. The international campaign and the domestic ban against Huawei have not prevented the firm
from thriving around the globe. On the other hand, China should address some issues such as its commercial malpractices and its human rights abuses. Besides, it should expand legally as opposed to what is currently happening on its Southern Sea. China and the US don’t necessarily have to become allies and agree on everything, but they should respect their differences, acknowledge each other power and always favour diplomatic means to resolve their disputes.
· New York Times, How the Cold War Between China and U.S IS Intensifying
· BBC, Should we be worried about the Chinese tech giant?
· World Economic Forum, China and the U.S. need to embrace the idea of benign competition. Here’s why