It would not be daunting to say that US-China relations, following the onset of the global Corona Virus, are currently at their lowest. Since the past few months, US President Donald Trump has vocally expressed his growing contempt regarding China’s role in ‘spreading’ the virus across the globe. He has spoken of the virus as a ‘bad gift’ from China and went so far as to call it ‘a worse attack than Pearl Harbor.’ China has not stayed silent on the matter and has responded similarly, albeit more eloquently, demanding Trump to show proof behind his accusations and declaring them unjust.
China also stated that the US chose to politicize a virus at a time when global institutions should work together to combat this unprecedented threat. Unfortunately, Trump also decided to withdraw funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) at this critical hour and declared the intention to terminate the relationship with the organization accusing it of protecting China amidst the virus. It is important to note that the United States contributes to around 15% of the organization’s total funding. This exchange of banter between the two countries is not a new occurrence. However, considering current socio-economic circumstances, it may lead to a dire outcome in what many have anticipated as a new cold war.
The two countries were not always at an equal footing that could justify such a bold face-off. In fact, China faced uncertain economic conditions in 1970, following policies of state-centered communist experiments. In 1978, President Deng Xiaoping came into power, with his pragmatic economic reforms. He has been dubbed the ‘The Architect’ or ‘The Architect of Modern China.’ He combined communist characteristics with free enterprise and China underwent an age known as ‘The Opening of China.’ Much of his ideologies are still followed today and he is essentially credited for leading the country out of economic stagnation into holding its’ place as the second-largest economy of the world.
As China continued on its accession to the top, joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the US suffered some major blows. Notably the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. This launched the international US military campaign which turned into a decades long-war and pulled in multi-trillion dollar investments. US-China relations during this period continued to be estranged and China holds the perspective that the US War on Terror is a strategy to establish US dominance in Central Asia.
However, following the economic recession of 2008, both China and the US were hit fairly hard and established a mutually beneficial economic relationship based on shared interests and financial commonalities to combat their conditions. The bilateral relationship was the most diplomatic following the years of the recession. The US remained China’s largest export market and most of China’s accumulated reserves were used to buy US bonds.
In 2013, with a new leader taking up the mantle in China, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was announced joining up 138 countries including Pakistan in a large-scale infrastructure development project. The Gwadar Port in Pakistan has since developed as part of this initiative, and China-Pakistan relationships have bloomed. On the other hand, India and the US have found friendship in each other with a new trade deal on the horizon between the two. It seems the two superpowers have found allies in India and Pakistan, the two neighboring adversaries. The cultivation of both these relationships cannot be a coincidence especially given the involvement of military personal in the BRI project.
China has not shied away from expressing that its economic success is due to its communist ideologies and not despite it. This stark difference in political ideologies has always remained a cause for unrest between China and its adversary in the West, and neither is ready to rest their stance or reach a diplomatic middle ground. The US holds a strong position on its liberal values and democratic policies and holds the perspective that China’s single-party rule is not only a violation of these principles but a threat to global liberty.
In Pakistan, China has the local army deployed to safeguard the economic corridor and activities around the Gwadar Port. The US anticipates that China might deploy their own military around countries participating in the BRI for the protection of this initiative. This does not sit well with the country and many analysts who believe that this would set up the ground for a new cold war between the East and West.
If this is to happen, the new cold war would present a challenge to the global population not previously seen. The Cold War between the US and USSR differed primarily from US-China relations in the sense that the latter is bound together economically. What would this challenge entail for the trade between the two countries? Both countries will suffer huge losses given any economic decoupling that takes place. Nevertheless, such a decoupling is already underway.
Nausheen Samad is a student of Social Entreprenuership at Institute of Business Management and has interests in International Relations, Philosophy and Political Sociology.