US-China relations have been hostile in recent years, with the two countries competing in many economic, military and political spheres. Political experts believe that if the two countries do not back down from their positions and policies, they will take the world into a new era of Cold War, affecting many countries. Signs of a new Cold War can be seen in relations between the two. Even Joe Biden taking office in the US has not diminished the level of animosity.
Increasingly Hostile Sino-US Relations
In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his country’s relations with China “Increasingly hostile” and said he wanted a with Beijing to be from a position of power in any possible interaction or confrontation. In fact, the US Secretary of State’s remarks reflect a national security document released a few months ago. The document states that the US can work with China in areas such as the environment, communicable disease control, and global economic stability, as well as issues such as North Korea and Iran. At the same time, the two countries are competing for a better position in the economic and political arenas.
Competition and Hostility Are Two Important Features of Future US-China Relations
In addition to competition and cooperation, there are many points of contention between Beijing and Washington that can lead to growing hostilities. If competition, cooperation and hostility in US-China relations were to be prioritised, competition would be the first priority, moving towards increasing hostility; cooperation between the two is a much lower priority. This, therefore, is what the US Secretary of State was referring to.
An important point to note is the strategic dimension of US-China relations, where the two countries consider rivalry and hostility between them to be inevitable. The strategic dimension oversees the global standing of the two countries and their role in setting international rules. In fact, competing for the top position has meant that the animosity between them has spiked.
It should be said that, since the new administration took office in the US, not only have tensions between the two not been reduced, there has been more conflict and confrontation than during the Trump era. Therefore, it can be expected that relations between Beijing and Washington will continue to tense up in the future, and the more pressing issues such as the environment or infectious diseases will not overshadow the strategic rivalries between them. Although China is still cautiously competing with the US, it should be noted that the Chinese government is more cautious than ever in pursuing US policies.
China’s Strategic Competition with the United States
This has manifested itself in China’s change of policies. Over the past year, China has more explicitly supported the Philippines, prevented Security Council resolutions against the Myanmar government, expanded its strategic relations with Pakistan and made public its 25-year agreement with Iran.
In fact, in response to the US policy of recruiting regional governments to counter China’s policies, the Beijing government has taken a similar approach, seeking strategic alliances to compete with the US. Therefore, it must be said that the political equations of power are taking root in East Asia and this region will be the centre of conflict and rivalry between the big powers in the coming years.
Moreover, the Chinese government is committed to strengthening its economic and military capabilities in addition to cooperating with other countries. It has begun building aircraft carriers and expanding its influence in the South China Sea. In the meantime, China’s economy has been growing for the past year as other economies, including the US, have suffered from the Covid-19 outbreak.
Recent Beijing-Washington Relations
After Donald Trump took office, China entered a new challenge with the country that it had not experienced before. The issue of US-China rivalry has been the focus of experts for years, and Beijing’s rapid economic growth has also been sounding the alarm for US officials for years. During the presidency of Barack Obama, however, the type of tension was different. Obama tried to win a subcutaneous race with China by keeping up appearances of friendliness between the two countries.
During the Obama administration, the US tried to put the necessary pressure on China with competitive but peaceful means, using the leverage of its allies and preventing the country from gaining more and more power. But under Trump, the rivalry changed dramatically, and perhaps because of Trump’s personality traits, it took the form of a Cold War.
António Guterres Warns of the Dangers of a New Cold War
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned a few days ago that the world could face a new Cold War unless the two countries improved their relations, citing differences between China and the US over various issues, including trade, the internet and financial regulations. Guterres has called on China and the US to repair their “completely dysfunctional” relations before problems between the two major and influential powers spread to other parts of the world. “Unfortunately, today we only have confrontation,” Guterres said. “We need to re-establish a functional relationship between the two powers,” he said, reiterating that:
“It is essential to address the problems of vaccination, the problems of climate change and many other global challenges that cannot be solved without constructive relations within the international community and mainly among the superpowers.”
Two years ago, Guterres warned world leaders of the dangers of a global divide as the US and China became adversaries in the fields of the internet, currency, trade and financial regulations, plus the two countries’ zero-sum strategies in the geopolitical and military spheres. He reiterated in a recent interview that competition in these two areas may divide the world. “We need to avoid at all costs a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage,” he said.
Guterres said the new Cold War would be more dangerous because the Soviet-American enmity had established clear rules and both sides were aware of the dangers of nuclear destruction. This led to the creation of channels and forums to ensure that the situation did not get out of control. He said the US-British agreement to move a nuclear-powered submarine to Australia which could operate in Asia without reconnaissance was just a small piece of a more complex puzzle of the current highly dysfunctional China-US relations. The secret agreement reached between Britain, the US and Australia angered China and France when Australia cancelled a $ 66 billion deal to buy French submarines.
The previous Cold War was fought between the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies with the US and its Western allies. The war began immediately after World War II and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The puzzle of strategic rivalry between China and the US seems to be unfolding rapidly, as it did during the Cold War. The same rivalry applies to US-Russian relations simultaneously.
The US-China rivalry could also affect the interests and security of many countries. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar system, the US claimed the position of undisputed power as the most powerful state in the international system – an actor capable of directing international rules and procedures alone.
Yet the other big powers, by challenging the US, continued their efforts to change the situation with long-term strategic planning. These actors have always threatened America’s top position as potential adversaries. China is one of the big powers whose potential to become a superpower and occupy the current US position has caused concern among its officials.
With a proper understanding of Sino-US relations, one cannot expect an improvement in the US approach to China during Joe Biden’s presidency, because even after the victory of the Democratic nominee, America’s fundamental goals and aspirations towards China have not changed.