The US China ping-pong

With this increasing polarization, containing within it the potential to develop into a full-blown Cold War- nations will be forced sometime sooner than later to choose a winner

by Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The U.S. China ping pong started from way back in 1949 since Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong created the People’s Republic of China in Beijing after having defeated Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek.In the more current scenario where economics drives politics, the Ping-Pong between U.S and China has become more sharply defined. The stakes are high. Who will be the next world leader for coming decades? With Chinese policy becoming more assertive, the US is deeply concerned about an economic surge by China, leading to it becoming a world leader.

In 2013 China launched the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) a project that aims to build physical infrastructures across roughly 65 countries including Africa, Asia and Europe. Pledging $900 billion in the project, China is poised to pump in $150 billion in these projects every year.It is an extremely ambitious project that aims to involve many countries to invest and derive benefits from a well-planned and a well laid out transit line.

The project is a huge outreach by China to the world, seeking international markets for export of goods and technology to boost their economy at the same time offering benefits to linking nations as well. Charles Parton, a former EU diplomat in China who has researched the initiative states that the project is, “ultimately a domestic policy with geostrategic consequences rather than a foreign policy.”

The confrontational politics between U.S and China, has begun earlier than expected. The reason may have to do not so much with the inevitability of the outcome of the relationship but the quickened pace can be logically attributed to the ‘bull in the China shop’ attitude of President Trump.

George W. Bush had supported the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and Obama had given final touches to the plan to lay out rules for doing trade and investing in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Trump pulled out of TPP on his very first day in office. By staying in TPP, the US would have been in a position to help countries wanting to be a part of BRI while minimizing economic risks. Another advantage the US lost is the leverage to offer good terms of trade with the US market to countries where China is the main exporter. It can no longer offer a competitive investment plan to nations as opposed to BRI or TPP. In 2017 China launched the ‘petro-Yuan’. This allows crude oil futures contract to be priced in Yuan convertible in gold. Not only does it allow trading countries to avoid US sanctions to trade oil in Yuan, it also does not need conversion into US dollars or investing money in Chinese assets.

What the US is left with is a fear of China’s outreach. Leaving TPP – the pragmatic path of molding the economic game to its advantage, the US is playing the small game by joining hands with India to create unwarranted issues in the region.

Fast forward to the present: President Trump and Chinese vice Premier Liu He in 2020 signed a ‘Phase One’ agreement. U.S allowed some softening on Chinese imports with China buying some $200 billion worth of American goods. This was a big breakthrough for both the countries. However, the deal had the gray areas that rose questions later: of long term subsidies enjoyed by China that were to be addressed in a future deal; as per Trump.

When Covid-19 broke out, all non-Americans were denied entry into U.S who had visited the mainland China in recent time. President Trump nicked the virus as “Chinese virus”, reportedly using it more than 20 times from March 16th till March 30th. Accusing WHO for being biased towards China, U.S under Trump stopped the funding to the organization.

As the Ping-Pong gained intensity, roughly thirteen journalists from three U.S newspapers were faced with expulsion whose credentials were to expire. The statement of Chinese Foreign Ministry was this this decision was a response to the U.S government earlier in the year to reduce Chinese journalists in U.S as well as designate those media outlets as foreign missions.

The U.S has raised a cry against Chinese treatment against Uyghur Muslims, responding; China’s Foreign Ministry rubbished the claim and told the U.S in no uncertain terms to stay out of Hong Kong affair. It is interesting to note the timing of Chinese-Indian spat earlier this year near Galwan River and subsequent standoff between both.

If one closely examines the facts of the tumultuous relationship, the cause seems to be two-pronged. With the U.S under Trump playing her cards badly, the handing over of the mantle seem to be messier and may get messier yet. Secondly, the clash comes with the entirely different natures of both in terms of governance structures. China may be seen as a threat because of her authoritarian structure, as against a more open and democratic one supporting free-market economics. These two reasons, are primarily responsible for the deteriorating relationship. The second was always present, the base that has always caused the friction. The increasing slide by U.S urged on by policies of the present government has increased U.S distrust of China, yet not wanting another; least of all China to take the central seat, has led to the stepping up of rivalry pushing back a certain degree of strategic cooperation both the countries had.

With this increasing polarization, containing within it the potential to develop into a full-blown Cold War- nations will be forced sometime sooner than later to choose a winner. There is no doubt that in the New World Order unfolding China has clearly substituted Russia. The Indo-Pacific will be the gravity of this rivalry not Europe. In a speech Tillersonhad stated that “the Indo-Pacific – including the entire Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific, and the nations that surround them – will be the most consequential part of the globe in the 21st century” and that “the greatest challenge to a stable, rules-based Indo-Pacific is a China that has taken to reworking the international system to its own benefit.” (Oct 21, 2017).

The coming times may be fraught with tension, but promise to be interesting!

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst

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