The US and China are trapped in what Graham Allison has termed as Thucydides’ trap. Under President Xi, China has taken several steps that are intended to counter US influence and liberal order. The most important is China’s project of the century, BRI, which is a tool of China’s economic statecraft to increase its presence and influence across the globe. In addition to this, Beijing has built several institutions as alternatives to those built under the US-led liberal world order.
Another important development that happened under President Xi that can threaten US hegemony in the world is the increasing willingness of states to trade in Chinese currency instead of the US dollar. The use of the US dollar as a medium of global trade is one of the most important determinants of US hegemony because it gives the US an edge over other states, while its decline can threaten American hegemony over the global economic order.
Speaking at the 20th National Congress, President Xi outlined a few policy goals that will shape the course of future US-China relations.
First, Taiwan is considered a core issue of national security by China
Taiwan has been a self-governing territory of China since 1949. President Xi stated that China would not renounce the use of force in the reunification of Taiwan. On the other hand, the US under the Biden administration has shown a commitment to defend Taiwan if China attempts to use force against Taiwan. The recent visit of US high officials, including Speaker Nanci Pelosi, and the retaliation of China by starting a military exercise around Taiwan is just the start of an upcoming war.
The US intelligence agency, the CIA, has warned that China might invade Taiwan by 2027 and that by then China will be capable of invading it. Similar remarks were made last year by Mark Milley, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman and Philip Davidson, head of US Indo-Pacific Command, that “China can capture Taiwan by 2027“. Another impetus for invading Taiwan by Beijing could be economic decline. Xi Jing Ping is determined to lead China till 2035, and if economic growth does not increase as expected, then Xi will use military force against China to divert attention from the economic fallout. Hence, Taiwan will be an important factor that will make US-China relations more adversarial.
Second, the tech war will shape future US-China relations
The US has sanctioned China for acquiring “advanced computing technologies“. Both great powers are involved in a struggle for technological supremacy. The US is losing ground in some areas, and that’s why the Biden administration is committed to spending billions of dollars to develop local tech sectors, especially CHIPS. An important factor in this tech war is that the most advanced processors are fabricated in Taiwan.
This is a national security risk for the US because, in the case of an attack on Taiwan by China, the supply chain would be disturbed. Writing in his book “Tech Wars: Transforming U.S. Technology Development” Gerstein argued that the US is investing less in R&D. In 1960, in global research and development, the US share was 70 percent, but in 2018, it was 27 percent, while China’s share is 21 percent. Under President Xi, China initiated a project named “Made in China 2025” whose goal is to dominate the technology sector and become a powerhouse of future technology. This tech war will further escalate, and sanctions from both sides will further worsen US-China relations.
The third important area where the US and China will face each other will be issues of human rights. The US is an advocate of liberal democracy, where freedom of speech is an important pillar of any democracy. In the case of China, freedom of speech is paralleled with dissent. In China, the center is powerful and voices of dissent are suppressed at their roots. In western democracies, there is a concept of the “rule of law,” where everyone is equal under the law. In the case of China, there is a concept of rule by law. In Beijing, every aspect of the lives of Chinese citizens is controlled by the state.
There is extensive surveillance of citizens. A report by the Canadian Citizen Lab showed that the Chinese state can read and censor the private messages of Chinese citizens. In his speech, President Xi praised the authorities for curbing dissent in the country, especially in Hong Kong. US officials continue to outline these issues at all forums and target the Chinese authorities for violating the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. China considers it as interference in the internal affairs of China.
The global struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, as stated by US President Joe Biden, will shape the future of US-China relations. China will not allow any dissent in its territory and it will use force to suppress dissenting voices, which is portrayed by western democracies as human rights violations.
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These issues along with others such as the South China sea and the Uighurs issue will shape the future US-China relations.
The writer is working as a junior research assistant at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.