The last four years have been one of the most tumultuous periods in modern China-U.S. relations. U.S. President Donald Trump has been the critical catalyst of this upheaval as he has oscillated between presenting China as a valued partner in international affairs, to it being a pariah that needs to be ever more constrained.
Such fluctuations have mounted in intensity as the Trump presidency has progressed. They have left observers uncertain as to whether or not this is a purposeful strategy of the leader of the world’s most powerful country, or an indication of an untethered, badly conceived, and even short-sighted policy.
Such a wild approach has been no clearer than in their economic relationship. Here, the U.S. has strived to re-balance its trade relations with China, in particular, to reduce Beijing’s long-standing trade surplus with Washington. The surplus has been argued by U.S. elites to have led to an unequal relationship, which a rising China exploits to challenge the U.S.’s economic supremacy. This divide has increasingly taken on a symbolic quality with it becoming representative of a rising China that is soon to surmount the U.S. in global affairs, and which U.S. elites now regard as the most pressing strategic threat to its global position.
In an attempt to pressure China into some kind of re-alignment, the U.S. President initiated a trade war in 2018 and ratcheted up tariffs on Chinese imports to the American market. By early 2020, these amounted to over $400 billion in tariffs, with China imposing its own retaliatory tariffs of $138 billion on its U.S. imports. Such steps have taken place amidst ongoing trade talks between the two sides and have been viewed as a negotiating tactic that has ultimately been detrimental to both countries’ economies. In late 2020, the WTO said that U.S. tariffs violated international trade rules, undercutting their legitimacy, as well as the U.S. claims that China is undermining the U.S.-led “rules-based” international order.
Elsewhere, the two sides have also come into friction concerning China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with the U.S. carrying out regular freedom of navigation operations in the area. The U.S. now also sends warships and military aircraft through the Taiwan Straits on a monthly basis (something innovated under President Trump), so as to deter China’s historical claims on the island. In turn, Washington has urged its allies – Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom – to act similarly, which has raised concerns in China of the country being strategically constrained in the region. Such a constraint could prevent Beijing from pursuing its foreign policy goal of claiming hegemony in East Asia.
Concerning the coronavirus pandemic, narratives emanating from the U.S. along with its Western allies have targeted China as being culpable for the outbreak. In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump openly claimed that China had knowingly unleased the Covid-19 “plague” on the world, which prompted a terse response from Beijing’s officials that it is a cooperative, not a confrontational country that firmly has “no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot one with any country”.
Such criticism has been increasingly mainstreamed in the last few months in the West with it acting as a stimulus for discussions on how to deal with China’s rise. More critically, an October 2020 Pew survey showed that unfavorable opinions about China were at their highest ever level across the populations of Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Korea.
All of these aspects of U.S.-China relations will present particular challenges regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, in particular concerning growing global concerns over China’s international ambitions. In this regard, Beijing will certainly need to redouble its diplomatic efforts to present the country as a responsible and benign international actor, through which others can benefit – in primarily – economic terms. That, by most accounts, China has the coronavirus largely under control means that it has been able to restart its economic activity, which gives Beijing the ability to kickstart and lead an international recovery. That most Western countries are still overwhelmed by the pandemic reinforces this capability and gives China the further chance to gain greater leverage and influence.
It also appears that it is now the U.S. that faces the greatest challenges to its international legitimacy, the consequences of which may have profound implications for its own global standing. This relates to the U.S. president’s handling of the pandemic, which has to date led to its world-leading status of 210,000 deaths (which is set to double by the end of the year) and over 7.5 million infections. That the U.S. president himself has now become infected points to a leader but also a wider political system around him (including senior military leaders, senators, and most of his election campaign staff) that had a nonchalant, underprepared and irresponsible attitude to the major global health challenge of our time.
President Trump’s infection also marks a major national security threat for the U.S. and the world. Given his age, obesity, and unhealthy diet, it is feasible that the leader of the world’s most powerful country may become incapacitated from leading the U.S. in the next weeks. Crucially here, it has been widely reported that Trump will be unwilling to accept any negative outcome in the forthcoming election. Apart from suggesting that he would not leave office, he may try to rally supporters – potentially even violently – to protect his position. Crucially here, some of the medication he is taking to help him recover from Covid-19 has the potential to debilitate his mental capacities and overall judgment. This could impact his ability to recognize when he is incapable of leadership, but also spark irrational tweets and behavior that may destabilize the U.S. and even the world.
If the U.S. president were to die – either during or in the months after the election – in all likelihood the country would be thrown into a truly unprecedented constitutional crisis. With widely circulated claims among Republicans and Trump supporters that the election is rigged, if the Democrats were to win, we can expect lengthy legal battles, as well as a heightened potential for major civil unrest across the U.S. Either of these outcomes, would consume the U.S.’s domestic and international capabilities to act beyond its borders. They would also signal a sense of the U.S. political system (and democracy) as being illegitimate.
Such crises will only be to Beijing’s advantage (among other U.S. competitors), especially given that China is in many ways returning – if not returned to – its pre-coronavirus economic activity. If U.S.-China relations do signify a contest for supremacy between the world’s two foremost countries, Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact upon the U.S. presidential election could very well indicate the U.S.’s decline on the international stage, and essentially speed up China’s path to global pre-eminence.
From our partner Tehran Times
China and Venezuela Deepening Cooperation
In a significant development that underscores the changing dynamics of global politics and economics, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro recently signed several bilateral cooperation agreements in Beijing, highlighting the changing dynamics of world politics and economics. China’s determination to participate in partnerships that promote economic stability and prosperity demonstrates its unwavering commitment to global economic recovery.
The agreements signify a strengthening of their partnerships and span a variety of fields, including trade, the economy, and tourism. The cooperation has been upgraded to an “All-weather strategic partnership,” reflecting the continued dedication of both countries to the advancement and development of the other. The decision by China and Venezuela to strengthen their ties comes as the world is witnessing a transformation in international alliances and trade partnerships.
The economic collaboration between the two countries is one of the most significant aspects of this new era of partnership. The recent agreements are expected to further cement Venezuela’s ties with China, which has long been the country’s major trading partner.Investments in infrastructure development and oil and gas exploration and production are part of the cooperation in the energy industry.
During his visit to China, President Maduro expressed his optimism for the relationship’s future, stating it heralds the start of a “new era” for both nations. Venezuela, which has recently experienced economic difficulties, views China as a dependable ally that can aid in reviving its economy. China, on the other hand, sees Venezuela as a crucial friend in the region and a valuable supply of natural resources.
China and Venezuela’s energy cooperation has broad implications. As the globe grapples with concerns about energy security and climate change, this alliance might have a big impact on the global energy landscape. China’s investments in Venezuela’s oil sector can stabilize oil prices and provide a more consistent supply of crude oil to the global market.
Aside from the energy industry, both countries have pledged to deepen their collaboration in a variety of other economic areas. Venezuela can benefit from China’s expertise in agricultural technologies and infrastructural development in one area. Venezuela may enhance food production and reduce its reliance on imports by modernizing its agricultural sector with Chinese assistance, thereby increasing food security for its citizens.
Additionally, both countries have enormous potential in the tourism sector. Venezuela has incredible landscapes such as the famous Angel Falls and virgin Caribbean beaches, which may appeal to Chinese tourists looking for new travel experiences. Similarly, China’s rich history and culture have always captured the interest of visitors from all over the world, including Venezuelans. The tourist accords aim to make travel between the two countries easier, to foster cultural interaction, and to develop tourism-related enterprises.
Furthermore, the strengthened relationship extends beyond economic interests to include political and strategic considerations. Both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to mutual support in international forums and to no interference in the other’s internal affairs. This strategic partnership is consistent with China’s aim of establishing a multipolar world and strengthening cooperation across developing nations.
The collaboration between China and Venezuela should be seen in the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative. The BRI seeks to establish a network of economic and infrastructure partnerships across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. A deeper integration of Venezuela into China’s global economic vision through its participation in the BRI could create new trade and investment opportunities.
The potential for economic development in Venezuela is one of the most notable benefits of the China-Venezuela cooperation. In recent years, the South American country has suffered severe economic issues, including high inflation, financial sanctions, and political unrest. China’s investments and assistance can help stabilize Venezuela’s economy, generate jobs, and raise inhabitants’ living standards.
The China-Venezuela connection is a key milestone in the shifting global political and economic landscape. In a changing world order, this partnership has the potential to provide Venezuela with economic prosperity, stability, as well as greater autonomy.
Confusion and uncertainty shape debate about U.S. Gulf policy
Debates about the US commitment to Gulf security are skewed by confusion, miscommunication, and contradictory policies.
The skewing has fuelled uncertainty about US policy as well as Gulf attitudes in an evolving multi-polar world and fuelled misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The confusion is all the more disconcerting given that the fundamentals of US Gulf relations are beyond doubt.
The United States retains a strategic interest in the region, even if its attention has pivoted to Asia. Moreover, neither China nor Russia is capable or willing to replace the US as the Gulf’s security guarantor.
“None of the Gulf states believe China can replace the United States as the Gulf’s security protector,” said Gulf International Forum Executive Director Dania Thafer.
The recent US military build-up in the Gulf to deter Iran with thousands of Marines backed by F-35 fighter jets and an aircraft carrier helped reassure Gulf states in the short term. So has the possibility of the US putting armed personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
The build-up followed the United Arab Emirates’ withdrawal from a US-led, 34-nation maritime coalition in May because the US had not taken decisive action against Iranian attacks on Gulf shipping, including a vessel traveling from Dubai to the Emirati port of Fujairah.
Even so, the United States has allowed confusion and uncertainty to persist. In addition, the US as well as the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appear to pursue contradictory goals.
“The US…did not formulate a very clear approach to how the US wants to work with the GCC as a whole” instead of cooperating with individual Gulf states, said analyst Nawaf bin Mubarak Al Thani, a former Qatari brigadier general and defense attaché in Qatar’s Washington embassy.
The Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC groups the six Gulf monarchies – Saudi Arabia, the UAE. Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.
“Unless the US becomes clear in its intentions about how it wants to proceed with its future defense relationship with the GCC as a whole, I think we will be going in circles,” Mr. Al Thani added.
The United States has unsuccessfully tried to nudge the GCC to create an integrated air and missile defense system for several years.
Former Pentagon official and Middle East scholar Bilal Y. Saab suggests that the US has moved in the case of Saudi Arabia to enhance confidence by helping the kingdom turn its military into a capable fighting force and developing a first-ever national security vision but has failed to communicate that properly.
“Our geographical command in the region, also known as the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), has been conducting a very quiet…historic transformation from being a war-time command to something of being a security integrator…to activate partnerships to attain collective security objectives,” Mr. Saab said.
“This is not just about having confidence in the US role; it’s also about the United States having confidence in the willingness and ability of those Gulf states to buy into this new mission of doing things together,” Mr. Saab said.
“My biggest problem is that we’re not communicating this stuff well… There’s a lot of confusion in the Gulf about what we’re trying to do,” he added.
Analysts, including Mr. Saab, caution that the United States’ recent willingness to consider concluding defense pacts with Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE is at odds with its revamped security approach to the region.
Saudi Arabia has demanded a security pact alongside guaranteed access to the United States’ most sophisticated weaponry as part of a deal under which the kingdom would establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
The UAE initially made similar noises about a defense pact but has since seemingly opted to watch how the US talks with Saudi Arabia evolve.
A defence pact “is incredibly inconsistent with what we are trying to do with CENTCOM… The moment you provide a defence pact to the Saudis or, frankly, any other country in the region, this is where you go back to the old days of complacency, of dependency on the United States as the guardian and as doing very little on your own to promote and advance your own military capabilities,” Mr. Saab said.
His comments may be more applicable to Saudi Arabia than the UAE, which has long invested in its military capabilities beyond acquiring sophisticated weaponry.
The roots of confusion about the US commitment to the Gulf lie in evolving understandings of the US-Gulf security relationship based on the 1980 Carter Doctrine, the United States’ response to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and that year’s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Jimmy Carter laid out the doctrine in his 1989 State of the Union address. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” Mr. Carter said.
Robert E. Hunter, then a National Security Council official and the author of Mr. Carter’s speech, insists that the doctrine was intended to deter external powers, notably the Soviet Union, rather than defend Gulf states against Iran or secure shipping in strategic regional waterways.
“The often-misquoted Carter Doctrine…did not refer to the ‘free flow of commerce.’ I wrote almost all of the speech… it was designed to deter Soviet aggression against Iran, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began a few weeks earlier,” Mr. Hunter said.
The Reagan Doctrine, enunciated five years later by Mr. Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, reinforced his predecessor’s position.
“The US must rebuild the credibility of its commitment to resist Soviet encroachment on US interests and those of its Allies and friends, and to support effectively those Third World states that are willing to resist Soviet pressures or oppose Soviet initiatives hostile to the United States, or are special targets of Soviet policy,” Mr. Reagan said.
President George W. Bush’s development of US doctrine after the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington proved more problematic for the Gulf states.
Mr. Bush defended the United States’ right to defend itself against countries that harbor or aid militant groups.
His doctrine justified the US invasions of Afghanistan and, Iraq. Gulf states saw the Iraq war as destabilizing and problematic, particularly with some on the American right calling for a US takeover of Saudi oil fields.
Nonetheless, Gulf states had plenty of reasons to reinterpret the Carter Doctrine to include a US commitment to defend Gulf states against regional as well as external threats.
The Gulf states’ reinterpretation resulted from a US lack of clarity and actions that seemingly confirmed their revised understanding.
These included the United States leading a 42-nation military alliance that in 1991 drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, establishing bases in the Gulf in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, US interventionism following the 9/11 assaults, and the ongoing protection of Gulf shipping against Iranian attacks.
As a result, a lack of clarity and confusion in Washington and the Gulf’s capitals continue to dominate the debate about the US-Gulf security relationship.
Said Mr. Saab: “I would like to understand from the Gulf states whether what we are selling, they are actually buying. What we are selling is…a very real partnership. No longer guardianship, but actual partnership. I don’t know where individual countries stand on these proposals… Until we get common ground on this, there is nothing in the Middle East that we do that is really going to work.”
US Diplomacy in Asia: Navigating a New Era of Cooperation
In an era marked by shifting global dynamics and a resurgent emphasis on diplomacy, the United States must adapt its approach to international relations, particularly in its dealings with Asian countries. China’s recent call for the United States to recognize the shared aspirations of Asian countries has significant implications.
The changing global political landscape underscores the need for a commitment to cooperation, stability, and mutual development. The United States should heed this call and adopt a more cooperative approach in its interactions with Asian countries, which can benefit not only the region but also the entire world. This call from China comes at a time when the U.S. is making diplomatic strides in its relationship with Vietnam.
Vietnam, a significant player in the region, continually emphasizes that enhancing its comprehensive strategic cooperative engagement with China is its top foreign policy objective. This commitment underscores the importance of Asian nations forging partnerships based on mutual understanding and shared goals, rather than divisive politics.
China’s approach to bilateral relations with Asian countries is rooted in principles that promote regional peace, stability, development, and prosperity. It emphasizes that such connections should not target third parties or jeopardize regional well-being.
China’s call for the U.S. to adhere to basic norms governing international relations is an invitation to enter an era of diplomacy that moves beyond the outdated zero-sum pursuit of power politics. Understanding the changing dynamics in Asia is critical to understanding the significance of China’s call. The region is experiencing unparalleled economic expansion, technological advancement, and social development. Through trade, investment, and cultural contacts, Asian countries are becoming increasingly interconnected. Their mutual goals concentrate on maximizing their ability for the greater good.
Indeed, the world has changed since the days when superpowers ruled global affairs. Diplomacy is a more complex endeavor in today’s connected and multipolar world. By adopting a more cooperative approach to Asian issues, the United States has a rare chance to demonstrate its commitment to becoming a constructive global partner.
China’s call for the United States to respect common goals is grounded in a vision of Asian cooperation that transcends historical resentments and ideological disagreements. It recognizes that each country in the area has unique strengths and challenges and that collaboration can help solve those challenges more efficiently.
This call includes not just diplomacy but also economic links, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people relationships. Asian countries are keen to tap into the tremendous potential for trade and investment, and accepting this chance could help not only the US economy but also the stability and prosperity of the entire Asian region.
The US must consider the concerns and interests of all Asian countries, including China. A cooperative strategy that respects each country’s sovereignty and objectives is more likely to yield beneficial results and contribute to regional stability. The days of hegemony and Cold War mentalities are behind, and the future of global politics lies in cooperation, mutual progress, and common goals. The world is watching, and the choices made today will shape the future of international relations in Asia and beyond.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize China’s significant contributions to the prosperity and security of the Asian region and beyond. China’s economic growth and development have been major drivers in maintaining global economic stability. It’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has aided infrastructure development in a number of countries, allowing for economic growth and connectivity.
China’s emphasis on a multipolar world and respect for sovereignty aligns with the values of equality and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. This position contrasts with previous instances of US interventionism and emphasizes the need to respect individual nations’ autonomy and choices.
While recognizing the significance of cooperation, it is critical to emphasize the dangers of pursuing aggressive policies in Asia. A confrontational strategy, whether through military posturing, containment efforts, or coalition formation to fight China, can lead to increasing tensions and instability in the region. Such acts may unwittingly put governments on the defensive, hindering diplomatic progress.
Whether or not Biden admitted it, his visit to Vietnam was mainly perceived as a major US move to court the Southeast Asian country and leverage its economy in support of the US offensive against China’s trade and technologies.
It’s highly important to remember that Asia is a diversified continent with intricate historical, cultural, and political aspects. The resolution of regional challenges and conflicts is more likely to be successful when strategies that emphasize collaboration and communication are used. History has taught us that engagement and diplomacy are much more successful means of settling conflicts than direct confrontation.
The call from China to the United States to embrace a new era of cooperation in Asian ties is a push for a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous world. Recognizing China’s contributions to global economic stability and its commitment to addressing significant global issues is extremely important. Adopting a cooperative approach in Asia based on equality and respect for sovereignty will pave the way for a brighter future for all nations in the area and beyond.
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