Shovan Sinha Ray
Postgraduate in International Studies from Christ (Deemed to be University),
Bangalore and a Research Intern at O.P. Jindal Global University,
Email ID: Shovansinharay@gmail.com
Conflict of Interests Among Nations
Even at times of peace, there is always a possibility of a conflict of interests among nations. Such conflicts over time can generate frictions and finally culminate into a full-scale war. It is this conflict of interest, each portraying themselves as the hegemon that has generated a considerable amount of friction between the two countries. Both the nations argue on the component of ‘leader of the existing system’. China claims to be a rising global power and a regional hegemon while the US is indirectly acknowledging that by its actions. Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia and Africa have over the years become the central arena of China’s diplomacy. The US strongly believes that China is following the ‘US version of the Monroe doctrine’ by which China is trying to keep the superpower out and pushing China in as much as and wherever possible (Peng, 2009). Clearly, both nations are trying their best to challenge the growth of one another and are always up against each other’s throats. China’s increasing investments over the last couple of decades in Latin America, African nations (Boyd, 1970) and Pakistan (Khan, 2019) is an ongoing example of the same. The dragon is giving aid to these nation-states to allow them to build better infrastructure and in return aiming for a larger influence in the regional politics of these regions. Many also believe that China is extending its hands-on debt-trap diplomacy to fulfil its geostrategic interests (Mehta, 2020).
Recently, China has struck a 400-billion-dollar deal with Iran also known as the “Chabahar deal.” The strategic partnership plan includes China’s investment in Iran’s Chabahar port project, conducting joint military exercises and research weapon development programmes, construction of railway lines, and supply of crude oil at concessional rates for the next 25 years to China (Tehran Times, 2020). In the Southeast Asian region, China is steadily investing in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. The deal compromised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty leading to a situation of “debt trap.” The rising energy needs of China have pushed her to consolidate its position not only in its neighborhood but beyond like Latin America and Africa. The investment techniques and actions adopted in African countries – Nigeria, Angola, Morocco and many others are similar to China’s policies towards Sri Lanka. In the view of the authors, China’s investment programmes in recent years are much similar to what the US adopted in the post-World War II scenario towards Europe through the “Marshall Plan” and the role played by it in the middle eastern region. The actions of both the nation-states in the past and present are guided by its national interest proving the realist argument true.
To counterbalance China’s emerging influence in the multipolar world order, the US is found to be investing a lot in Africa and the South-east Asian nations (Madeira, 2020). Further, the US is trying to diminish the value chain dependency on China by shifting its manufacturing units to different locations but China will surely play a dominant role as the leader of the value chain system for a few more decades if not more (McCaul, 2019). Therefore, the relationship between China and the United States is more tactical than strategic by the simple reason that there are ideological, economic, political and social differences. So, the countries are just moving towards a planned economic development wherein diplomacy is playing a major role in balancing. Thus, one can define the Sino-US relations as comprehensive, strategic and global.
On one hand, China’s recent assertive actions and territorial claims in the South China Sea region has aggravated the ongoing turf war. On the other hand, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the two parties once again adopted an antagonistic approach and are not open for discussions which have led to a considerable number of fissures in the bilateral relations. Just a few months before the episode of Covid-19 pandemic began the Trump administration ordered trade sanctions on several Chinese companies and banning Huawei was one among many such actions. The US also announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston and as expected China retaliated back with the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu. Apprehensions further increased with the appointment of Robert A. Destro as the US’s coordinator of Tibetan issues (Lakshman, 2020). The dragon nation perceived the United States as a threat to its sovereignty and security regarding her Myanmar policy as well. The two states were at constant loggerheads wherein the US followed human rights centred agenda and issued harsh sanctions against the military government while the collapse of Myanmar’s military government or a US military invasion of Myanmar would inevitably change the security outlook of China’s southwest border region. This issue was followed by a trade war between them during which the two countries slapped each other with several tariffs. Neither Xi Jinping nor Trump backed down for quite some time despite it impacting global trade. Amidst so much competition rays of cooperation could also be seen. Finally, in the month of January 2020 both parties signed the Phase One Deal by which they agreed to roll back tariffs, ensure the expansion of trade purchases, renewed commitments on intellectual property, promised to transfer technology and currency practices (Zhang, 2018).
Opportunities Amidst Challenges
Amidst tensions, we have also seen an opportunity for the development of bilateral relations between the two states. Together they share high stakes in non –proliferation and anti-terrorism arena which can bring the two otherwise conflictual parties on the cooperation table. The US and China despite bashing each other on public platforms share a keen interest in crucial issues pertaining to climate change, healthcare and humanitarian assistance. One of the biggest achievements includes the signing of the Paris Agreement (Staff, 2016). The large-scale people to people contact through cultural exchange programmes and sharing of science and technology served as the bridge to strengthening the diplomatic ties (Ranjan, 2020). In reaction to the outbreak, many quarters of American society have offered their support in helping Chinese people combat the virus. With China’s permission, the US medical experts joined the WHO expert team and travelled to China to help with research activities so as to develop a workable vaccine. In that regard, academic cooperation has been carried out between Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Fudan University in Shanghai. Meanwhile, a large amount of donations including free medical supplies has been provided from the American civil society to China. Recent statistics stand proof that American companies donated in large amounts to China to combat the coronavirus situation (Huaying, 2020)
The Biden Administration to Decide the Future of Sino-US Relations
Under the Trump administration, the US has decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord signed in 2015 by 187 countries all over the world. The US said on many occasions claimed that the agreement had imposed an “unfair economic burden” on the country by giving China and other countries an unfair advantage over the US in terms of industrial growth causing pollution. Being a big brother of the world, the US saw it as an opportunity to check the Chinese plans to increase their industrial manufacturing. On one hand, the tough stand to withdraw from the accord is to by all means not to encourage China on global platforms. On other hand, China condemning the actions of the US is keen on forging a new partnership with France on climate change and biodiversity issues. Together two parties have signed the statement mentioning “irreversibility” of the Paris Accord (Patranobis, 2019). Further, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the WHO and freeze all funding to the organization that might adversely impact the function of the organization in future. Last but not least the blame game already has and will further erode the credibility of such organizations. Moreover, in the Trump regime, the Human rights agenda did not form the basis of Sino-Us relations as long as trade managed to continue (Albert, 2020).
To conclude, the US-China relations are that of ups and downs like any other relationship. China can no more be considered as a ‘reclusive porcupine’ as said by Aseema Sinha (Paul, 2016) in respect to India while defining Indo-China relations but it is the same when we compare the US and China relations at the global level. The US is still overriding China in terms of economy, technology and military but that game can change sooner or later in the international arena if the competition is not kept up with. Hence, competition is natural. Despite that one cannot neglect the fact that amidst conflict and competition the two powers have shown rays of cooperation and opportunities. Therefore, Biden who happens to be the new President of the United States must understand the benefits of a perfect balance of cooperation and competition while engaging with the dragon.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.