The octopus of US-China cold war ? |By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi


The octopus of US-China cold war ?

RECENTLY, President Joe Biden while addressing the UNGA vowed not to be waging a new Cold War with China as he is committed to pivoting from post-9/11 conflicts thereby taking a global leadership role on crises beginning from global warming to the COVID -19.

But in reality, there emerges expanding dynamics of a new Cold War between Washington and Beijing.

Yet, it appears that the US-China relationship is entering a period of conflict pitting an established hegemony against an increasingly powerful challenger.

The great power contest between the US and China has been steadily racketing up over many years.

Washington’s long-term strategy in Asia — to ensure the region is not dominated by a hostile hegemonic force — is plainly threatened by the growth in Chinese power.

For over four decades, US policymakers viewed human rights in China not as a question of core interests, but rather as a matter of values to be promoted when doing so does not interfere with higher-priority security or economic concerns— windowing from the era of Trump Administration in 2016 to the very inception of the Biden Administration In January 2021.

The US has moved aggressively to block Chinese technology firms, such as TikTok and Huawei — from expanding their international operations, or buying US-made computer chips. China and America, even indulge in tit-for-tat expulsions of journalists.

Today, we see that some states in East and Southeast Asia are attempting to counterbalance China by containing it with the US. The revival of the QUAD and attempts to turn it into a more serious platform is a sign of this.

However, we also see that European countries are not necessarily responding positively to the US calls to strengthen their alliance relations.

On the one hand, the view that acting together with China would create more economic opportunities is gaining momentum in Europe, while, on the other, that a rapprochement with the US would inevitably lead to a more confrontational relationship with Russia.

As the Tech Cold War continues unabated, there is a growing inclination from both sides to create their own tech regimes.

We believe this has the potential to reach a crescendo when both sides end up creating a “Tech Wall” with little or no inter-operability.

This will push neutral states to make a choice with the fault lines most painful in Europe, a continent where Tech has not yet become a strong contributor to domestic innovation. It would present a very difficult dichotomy to policy makers what we call the Covid dilemma.

As the US and China ask nation-States to make a choice between their rival technologies and the Covid-19 crisis creates a focus on cash conservation, a stimulus to jumpstart economies and job creation.

To strip out one technology is very painful and expensive— endorsed by the fact: Asking a nation like Germany to strip out Huawei from their network would cost tens of billions of Euros, delaying infrastructure building and hurting job creation.

And yet arguably, a worsening of the US-China trade and tech wars would fracture already-stressed supply chains, reduce international cooperation, reinforce protectionist tendencies and open new fronts of conflict and contestation.

It could also complicate the economic recovery and lay the seeds for a second global recession, or even depression.

There is no iota of doubt that a second Cold War could be worse than the first, given the interdependence of the US and Chinese economies, their centrality to global prosperity and the proliferation of dangerous military and digital technologies.

China’s growing need to secure new sources of energy and natural resources has made Beijing focus on Africa—and to a lesser extent, Latin America—as a new locus for economic growth and building goodwill through infrastructure and development aid.

Africa’s underserved populace of 890 million also makes it an attractive market for the continuous flow of Chinese exports. Chinese interests in the African continent are deep.

Thirty percent of China’s oil comes from Africa, with Angola and Sudan—Africa’s fourth- and seventh-largest producers, respectively—the two leading suppliers; Angola sends 42 percent of its oil exports to China, and Sudan more than 50 percent.

This eventually shows China’s trans-regional economic trajectory. What all of these developments indicate to provide a caveat, we cannot, however, let it go unsaid that, given past experiences, the conditions of “hegemonic war” — the division of the global system into status quoist and revisionist bloc, the uncertainty of alliance relations, and the normalization of the use of military power — observed during periods of international system transformations, are becoming more prominent by the day.

Naturally, Beijing is justifiably wary of the newly orchestrated AUSKUS agreement— formed between the US, Australia and the UK—giving the nuclear Australian submarines the license to enter into the South China Sea — posing a big question mark on the application of international law vis-à-vis Chinese sovereignty over its territorial waters.

For China’s Foreign Ministry, it “seriously damages regional peace and stability, intensifies the arms race, and undermines the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” and, for China’s media wolf warriors, it makes Australia “a potential nuclear war target.”

Whereas, the American CIA has created a China Mission Centre focusing solely on China and the strategic challenges posed by Beijing.

Militarily, economically and geopolitically, the world has been moving toward a bipolar superpower system wherein the management of a balance of power is a greater challenge posed to both the US and China.

Though pragmatically argued, economic and ecological interdependence reduces the probability of a real cold war, much less a hot one, because both Beijing and Washington have an incentive to cooperate in a number of areas.

Yet, on the contrary, miscalculation may always be possible, and some see the danger of sleepwalking into catastrophe, as happened with World War-II.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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