Cold war or conflict: Understanding US-China ties
THE Guardian newspaper reported on February 2, 2023, that American Four-Star General Mike Minihan said that the US would be at war with China in 2025. This forecast is based on China’s military readiness to invade Taiwan. This statement or leaked memo of an American four-star general comes at a time when the US has stepped up its anti-China and anti-Russia rhetoric while strengthening ties with anti-China and anti-Russia lobbies and allies in the region. In response to these changing geo-political dynamics in region, China has been closely and cautiously observing the situation. Notably, a country with 1.412 billion people, military might and technological prowess cannot sit quietly.
Globally, academic scholars, think tank analysts and military strategists are debating the US and China ties, since both economic giants are heading towards a collision course. America is testing Beijing’s temperament by supporting Taiwan, Tibet, India, Japan and through proxy wars (in the Middle East, West Asia, Central Asia, Africa, etc) and fiercely engaging in competition with them. However, Beijing’s response has so far been calm and composed. In his book, World Politics (1958), American political scientist AFK Organski noted “changes in the power distribution can lead to conflict.” In relation to this, China is being considered a rising power, while America is being seen as a declining power. Hence, a change in power distribution could lead to a conflict. Therefore, the question is: Whether the US-China relations heading towards cold war or conflict. There is more possibility of low intensity of conflict than cold war between the US and China as predicted by a few in Asia. The following analysis might answer the question.
Conflict between the United States and China cannot be denied but it would not be a full-fledged war. The two countries have differences in their political systems, economic interests and strategic priorities that have led to tension in the past and could potentially escalate into conflict in the future. However, it is also possible for the two nations to find ways to cooperate and avoid conflict.
History shows that the Washington-Beijing relationship has remained complex and multi-faceted, covering a wide range of economic, political and security issues. In recent years, there have been increasing tension between the two nations, driven in part by competition for global influence and disagreements over trade and technology. There are also differences in values, such as human rights and political freedom that have contributed to the tension.
According to the UN Comtrade database on international trade, China’s exports to the US in 2021 were $577.13 billion, while its imports from the US were $180.97 billion. Similarly, America exported to China $151.1 billion while it imported from China $506.4 billion. These trade statistics show that there is a huge trade deficit between the US and China.
It is to be noted here that the United States and China have an interest in avoiding a direct military confrontation as the consequences of such a conflict would be catastrophic for both countries and for the world. Therefore, despite the tension, there have also been efforts to maintain communication and find areas of cooperation, such as on climate change and non-proliferation. In contrast to this, there are issues that are still sources of confrontation between China and the US; for instance: economic competition, military rivalry, the South China Sea, cyber security, Tibet and Xinjiang. The two countries are major economic powers and compete for resources, markets and influence in three big regions of the world: Asia, Europe and Africa. The US has accused China of unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft, while China has criticized the US for seeking to contain its rise. The two powers have been increasing their military capabilities and presence in the Asia-Pacific region, raising concerns about potential conflicts. The US has expressed concerns about China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its military modernization, while China has accused the US of destabilizing the region through its military presence. This type of claim and counterclaim is still looming large over the region.
Moreover, Washington and Beijing have been accused of engaging in cyber espionage and hacking activities, raising concerns about the potential for cyber-attacks and the security of sensitive information. The US has criticized China’s human rights record, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, while China has accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs.
China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, while the US recognizes the self-governing island as a separate entity. The US reported to have been supporting Taiwan, including selling arms to the country. This has made Beijing worried.Therefore, these issues could add into the tension between the US and China. Both countries have also shown willingness to cooperate on matters of global importance, such as climate change and pandemic response. Sanity demands that the two nations should engage in dialogue and iron out their differences to avoid escalation and ensure stability in the region. However, conflict between US and China, either at sea, land, or sky or even in a third country cannot be neglected.
—The writer is working at Department of Political Science, University of Sindh Jamshoro.