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Is US containment of China a new ‘War on Terror’?

Can the US afford an acrimonious relationship with China? Should the US peruse a hostile policy against China in Indo-Pacific? Should US government representatives pay official visits to Taiwan? Should the US cement its military & trade cooperation with Taiwan? Was Biden’s decision to hold a democracy summit a testament to the fact that the US considers its own version of democracy a universal one?

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Showering the pearls of optimism regarding the Sino-US rapprochement before leaving for China on February 17, 1972, President Richard Nixon said, “If there is a postscript that I hope might be written with regard to this trip, it would be the words on the plaque which was left on the moon by our first astronauts when they landed there: ‘We came in peace for all mankind.’ In those days, such a statement from an American president was considered both unprecedented and unpresidential, but it was given. After all, considering the geopolitical uncertainties in the 1970s, the United States could not afford a hostile foreign policy vis-a-vis China.

President of Pakistan General Yahya Khan played a key role in establishing a secret channel of communication between the leadership of the People’s Republic of China and the United States, a fact many historians fail to appreciate while writing about the subject. The two countries signed the Shanghai Communiqué in which the US affirmed its commitment to the ‘One-China Policy’ and maintained that Taiwan is a part of China, a matter China considers its ‘Core national interest’. Both countries continued to engage on many fronts which resulted in the establishment of their formal diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. Moreover, on 25th October 1971, the United Nations General Assembly admitted the People’s Republic of China and expelled Taiwan through a resolution. This move was equivalent to a ‘diplomatic nuclear blast’.

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Since then, both countries have cemented their relations in every aspect

This relationship has started to weaken especially since former president Donald Trump assumed office. Political pundits in the East and West were expecting that President Biden will pursue a more considerate policy vis-à-vis China but he has preferred to follow the footsteps of his predecessor. The question is, Can the United States afford a dented relationship with China? Before one answers this question, let’s consider the nature of this relationship and the international political environment.

(a)  According to the United States Census Bureau, in the first three months of the year 2022, the US exports of goods to China totaled $36,444.3 million and US imports of goods from China totaled $137,480.4 million. The trade relationship between the two countries is symbiotic i.e., China gets to sell its goods and services in the rich US market, and in return, the US consumers enjoy cheap Chinese goods.

(b)  According to the U.S.-CHINA Economic and Security Review Commission, 261 Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges have a total market capitalization of $1.4 trillion. These Chinese companies have invested tens of billions of dollars and have created more than two million jobs in the US. This is huge considering the mercurial rate of employment in the US over the years.

(c)   American universities hosted 372,000 Chinese undergraduate and graduate students in the academic year 2019–2020. This accounts for nearly 35% of the total international student population. Think about the revenue earned by American universities. Most Chinese graduates stay in the US after gaining employment and thus, they contributed to the national development of their host country.

(d)  Considering the situation of US relations with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, the United States needs more and more countries to support itself on the diplomatic front. The current geopolitical environment seems to be a copycat of the Cold War mindset where the two blocs are struggling to amass and reward allies.  China today is not what it used to be in the 1970s. It has positioned itself so well on the international stage that even thinking of pursuing an anti-China policy seems to be a political non-starter, at least for the US, which has so many layers of cooperation with China.

(e)  President Xi Jinping, in 2013, envisioned the massive Belt & Road Initiative which seeks to improve infrastructure in developing countries and reinvigorate the old Silk Route. By March 2022, China signed cooperation agreements with 146 countries. These include countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe & Central Asia, East Asia & Pacific, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, and south-east Asia. BRI cooperation with countries is not restricted to brick-and-mortar projects.

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It also includes governance experience exchange with partner countries

Considering the points listed above, can the US afford an acrimonious relationship with China? Should the US peruse a hostile policy against China in Indo-Pacific? Should US government representatives pay official visits to Taiwan? Should the US cement its military & trade cooperation with Taiwan? Was Biden’s decision to hold a democracy summit a testament to the fact that the US considers its own version of democracy a universal one?

It is noteworthy to mention that only 16 percent of Americans believe democracy is working well or extremely well, according to a study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research; 45 percent believe democracy isn’t functioning correctly, and another 38 percent believe it is working only somewhat well. Similarly, according to a Pew Research Center poll, only 20% of Americans trust the federal government almost usually or most of the time.

Read more: Conciliatory gestures raise hope for a US China trade deal

The United States and its allies know the answers to the above questions very well and they need to tread very carefully in their engagement with China. After all, the world can not afford yet another confrontation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

 

 

The writer is working as a researcher in an Islamabad-based think tank, Pakistan-China Institute. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.