By Dost Muhammad Barrech

The U.S.-China tug–of–war

June 30, 2021 - 16:8

The international world order during the Cold War was a bipolar world order dominated by two great powers the U.S. and USSR. USSR remained a formidable threat to the U.S. and the downfall of the former in 1991 culminated in the emergence of the latter as a sole power.

To perpetuate its hegemony across the globe, the U.S. after 9/11 started the war on terror, a military campaign against Al-Qaeda. The tenet of war and terror has now been waning. Currently, China is the only game in the town in the U.S. threat perception manufacturing. Countering China has been the prime objective of U.S. foreign policy. A recent G-7 summit under the leadership of the U.S. has entirely revolved around China-bashing. G-7 members in their 12,400-word communiqué labeled China and said that Beijing had been guilty of human rights abuses and was using its economic influence to bully others. China, by reacting to the G-7 communiqué, maintained that “a small" group of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone”.

A few pertinent queries that need to be answered are: Why has the U.S. obsession with China been escalating? Is a threat of China to the U.S. actual? Answering these questions require experts to ponder over prevailing great power competition between the U.S. and China. China’s growing economic, military and political powers across the globe create a discomfort zone for the U.S. 

The U.S. in great power competition with USSR during the Cold War termed the latter’s ideology antithetical to Western values predictably will now espouse the path of Cold War by accusing China of being an authoritarian regime. The U.S. president Joe Biden says that “I think we’re in a contest not with China per se but a contest with autocratic governments around the world as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century.” In the pretext of democracy vs autocracy, the U.S. again is weaponizing its values and playing the ideology and values card. 

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University in the U.S., argues that the U.S., "instead of recognizing its violations of human rights, criticizes other countries with biased human rights application." Sachs further articulates that the U.S. always tries to be a champion of human rights. Ironically, the U.S. has turned a blind eye to its horrendous human rights record and plays the double game by using human rights as a significant tool to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs to retain its hegemony. Under the guise of human rights violation, the U.S. is committed to punishing China and its soft image. 

The U.S. is deeply worried about China’s military and latent powers, posing a grave threat to its hegemony across the world. Kenneth Waltz asserts that “great powers are those that score highly on the size of population and territory; resource endowment, military strength; political stability and competence”. China, which appears to be following Waltz’s doctrine, has been making steady progress in both military and latent powers. Beijing after the U.S. in 2020 had the world's second-highest military expenditure of $252 billion. The Center for a New American Security, 2020 report forecasted that due to China’s robust economy its military power had been expanding that by and large would disturb the U.S. military supremacy. 

Robert O. Work, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, warns the U.S. that “China is on the way to developing secretive weapons directed energy weapons, advanced space weapons, electromagnetic rail guns, high-powered microwave weapons or even more exotic arms”. An emerging battlefield between the U.S. and China for sure is the technological race, where Beijing is stealing a march on Washington. 

Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think-tank, says “Made in China 2025 is a real existential threat to U.S. technological leadership”. Sophisticated technologies in the great power competition in the foreseeable future will affect strategic stability while an imminent arm race between the U.S. and China would remain technology-oriented. Artificial intelligence (AI) is another domain where Beijing will outstrip Washington. AI by 2030 would probably contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy. China’s contribution in AI by 2030 will be around $7 trillion. Analysts are of the view that China is predicted to be overtaking the U.S. as the world’s largest economy a few years earlier than predicted due to COVID-19. The U.S. gross domestic product in 2020 contracted by 2.3% to $20.93 trillion in current-dollar terms. Meanwhile, China’s GDP expanded by 2.3% last year to $14.7 trillion, putting Beijing’s economy at merely $6.2 trillion behind the U.S. However, China’s per capita income in the last two decades had spectacularly reached (10,276 dollars).

In order to derail China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the U.S. and its G-7 members have undertaken to Build Back Better World (B3W). A White House press statement while sharing detail regarding B3W said that the U.S. was reuniting the world’s democracies to live up to the expectations of the people and cope with the world’s foreseen challenges by demonstrating the shared values of democracy. The press statement further said that the U.S. and its G-7 partners would use B3W to meet the "tremendous infrastructure needs of low-and middle-income countries” with “the aim of help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world". 

Though economies involved in B3W are developed countries, they are in financial crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Global Financial Crisis 2008, from which some countries have not entirely recovered. BRI unlike B3W is single-handedly financed and underpinned by China while there are multiple stakeholders in B3W. States are dynamics that can alter their foreign policies overnight; any divergence of interest among the U.S. and its allies would cause a huge setback to the B3W. 

Ostensibly, B3W is unmatchable with BRI. The U.S. relative decline is somewhat obvious in the shape of formulating alliances, such as Quad also known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, highlighting democratic values and supporting G-7 members. China’s rapid headways in economy, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, soft power, military and latent powers are shifting the world order in its favor. The U.S. excessive economic dependence on China shuns the former to go for direct confrontation with the latter. The U.S. with the support of its allies will try to contain China to slow down Beijing’s economic growth that invariably will affect its economy, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity as well as its military and latent powers.             

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