The aim of the article is to study the future developments in the current processes of geopolitical rivalry in the post-coronavirus world. To this end, the article examines China’s aspirations and the challenge posed by Beijing as a candidate striving for the role of a Global Superpower. The key factors discussed are China’s ambitions, particularly in the field of international investments, as well as the use of soft power and diplomacy from Asia to Africa and to Europe in the context of the “Belt and Road” initiative. The article will also dwell on the policy of the United States, which as the only Global Superpower, counters China’s aspirations. The article also studies the mechanisms used by the U.S. to restrain China: the political and economic tools, including the use of sanctions and tariffs, the issue of human rights, and the domestic problems of China.
U.S.A., China, global Superpower, geopolitical rivalry.
The issues of establishing a world order and dominance in the international system by different states have always been one of the most important topics in international relations. The balance of power and geopolitical power centres have constantly changed throughout history. While the international systems of Westphalia and Vienna were distinguished by their “Eurocentrism,” the international system of Versailles-Washington, where the United States took its unique place, became the last multipolar world order, followed by the Yalta-Potsdam, an international bipolar system, with the supremacy of the U.S. and the USSR. After the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, only the United States retained its status as a global superpower.
Over the past 30 years, the lack of a balancing mechanism allowed Washington to make unilateral decisions on the future of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries. In order to study these processes at the systemic level, states should be classified into the following groups: “global superpower,” “superpower,” and at the regional level, “regional superpower.” To fall under one of the categories, the state must meet the following criteria.
The status of Global Superpower requires extensive use of capabilities throughout the international system. Global Superpower must possess advanced military-political capabilities (meeting all standards of the time) and economy to provide for such capabilities and requirements. Global Superpower must play an active role in the “securitization” or “desecuritization” of all or almost all regions of the system by being a threat, guarantor, ally, or, if necessary, an intervener. Following the end of the Cold War, the United States remained as the only Global Superpower, which today has a serious political, economic and military influence on all continents, without any exception. In fact, it is only China that challenges American hegemony. By its economic and political influence, China is rapidly approaching the status of a Global Superpower.
To be considered a Superpower, it is not necessary to have great powers in all the spheres; it is also not necessary for those states to participate in the process of “securitization” of the whole international system. Unlike Regional Superpowers, Superpowers are deemed as countries that, in the short or medium-term, have the potential to challenge the Global Superpowers economically, militarily, and politically. Such states are not just Regional Superpowers but are capable of ensuring their presence in more than one region. After the end of the Cold War, countries with such status are, for example, Britain, France, Germany (E.U.), China, Japan, and Russia.
The influence of the Regional Superpowers is limited to the borders of their region, without a serious influence on international politics. Among the Regional Superpowers are such countries as Turkey, Iran, Israel, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Thus, the “1+4” formula (U.S. + China, E.U., Russia, Japan) comes to replace the bipolar world.
In this context, China, by increasing its internal and external capabilities, is challenging U.S. dominance, exposing itself as an international player with great potential to become a Global Superpower. Contrary to U.S. aspirations, China is strengthening its central government, the regime is tightening its grip on the economy, and it is making its foreign policy more ambitious and proactive, seeking to change the US-backed system in Asia. China has changed its foreign policy significantly in recent years. It no longer focuses only on its internal development but aspires to world leadership, having as a basis a strong economy, military-ideological (including cultural) power. Following Washington’s slow, inadequate response, China is taking more proactive steps to establish economic, security, and political dominance over Asia. This, of course, is against the vital interests of the United States.
Despite the “1+4” formula, some experts are now talking about a power vacuum in international relations, about the so-called “G-Zero” world, when no power or group of powers exercises world leadership to meet the international challenges.Indeed, the United States has an advantage over other countries and continues to maintain its status as a Global Superpower; however, it is not enough to establish a unipolar world order. The United States is increasingly focusing on its own domestic issues, while its influence at the international level continues to decline, which becomes the basis for the formation of the “G-Zero” world. As Ian Bremmer points out, under such conditions, “political leaders in both developed and developing countries, burdened with mounting domestic challenges, have become more insular in their approach to policy and reform…Politicians are letting their immediate perceptions of costs and risks take precedence over the longer-term greater good. These arguments and observations are appropriate, especially if we take into account President Trump’s policy of “isolation” with the vision of settling domestic issues on top and then dealing with world issues.
The coronavirus became the first crisis of the G-Zero world. The current situation will lead to more national and geopolitical conflicts, and US-China competition will be at the heart of these conflicts. According to some, the weakness and one-sidedness of the U.S. response to the coronavirus, the growing international dependence on China, and the lack of strategy and leadership from other countries open up an opportunity for China to play a more active global role in the world. Although it is generally not yet ready to replace the United States as a Global Superpower, especially when it comes to using military force in other countries, in the post-coronavirus period, it will be ready to fight for the title of Global Superpower. As Henry Kissinger points out, “The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus.”
However, the United States is making every effort to counter the spread of Chinese influence in various areas. The restraint of China is based on two pillars; one is geopolitical, the other is geostrategic. Geopolitically, the restraint of China keeps it in the status of Regional Superpower and ensures American hegemony. According to other researchers, the U.S. does not tolerate equal rivals և intends to remain the only hegemon of the world in the region.
It is noteworthy that one of the main tools against China’s domination in the post-coronavirus world is the circulation of the concept of “Chinese virus” by President Trump and accusing China of spreading the virus, which already forms the basis for an aggressive policy.
China’s Lead towards the Status of Global Superpower
In the foreign policy sphere, China continues to consolidate its own position, and the current Chinese administration has adopted another principle to implement it that is different from the approaches of previous administrations. While in the past China pursued the policy of “Xiaoping of not showing its power to the outside world,” now it has adopted a slightly different but still cautious format for foreign policy. A new term has been introduced in the official Chinese discourse called “Xi diplomacy,” and the official news agency of the Chinese government, Xinhua, uses the hashtag #Xiplomacy on its English language account on Twitter. In the examination of the Party meeting speeches for the last 20 years, it becomes clear that no leader of the Communist Party has called China a “powerful force” as often as Xi did in his opening speech. However, Xi emphasizes that China has no imperial ambitions, nor does it seek international domination.
One of the pillars of President Xi’s new diplomacy is the “Belt and Road” initiative, which consists of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” projects. Xi Jinping first spoke about the “Silk Road Economic Belt” initiative in 2013 in his speech at Nazarbayev University of Kazakhstan. This initiative is to connect China with Europe by land. The sea route connecting Asia with Africa and Europe became known as the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, which was announced by President Xi in 2013 in his speech in Indonesia.Chinese government introduces the Belt Road initiative as an idea aimed at increasing the interconnectivity between Asia, Africa, Europe. This interconnectivity will increase trade and will promote long-term regional economic growth and development. All parties involved in the initiative will benefit.
In the academic sphere, there is no agreement on the goals of the “Belt and Road” initiative, its impact on US-China relations, and China’s role in the world. “Belt and Road” is generally seen as a project which can drastically change the economic and even political landscape of Central Asia, with less of an impact on South East Asia and Europe. Alongside the rare optimism about these changes, there are many concerns on the part of the United States about the economic viability of the “Belt and Road” project and its impact on the world order and American interests. One analyst may view it as an “entirely mercantile endeavor,” another as a “strategic gambit” aimed at establishing Chinese hegemony or even laying the foundations for “Sino-centric” world order.
Apart from the “Belt and Road” initiative, there is another ambitious project in the region, that is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the locomotive of which is Russia. The organization, which started operating in 2015, is also a challenge for American influence in the region.
Some claim that the analysis of the founding documents shows that the “Belt and Road” initiative is only an economic initiative aimed at the enhancement of trade, while EAEU is a more elaborate project, which aims to ensure the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor, along with the systematization of the economies. Moreover, the structures of the initiatives significantly differ. The EAEU is a classic organization with bodies that have clear-stated functions and decision-making procedures. The “Belt and Road” initiative, on the other hand, consists of bilateral agreements signed between China and the respective countries under the auspices of the former.
In terms of cooperation between the EAEU and the “Belt and Road,” initiative president Putin has made various proposals. He started by combining the “Belt and Road” and the EAEU with the E.U., to which he referred as the “integration of integrations.” Later, he reviewed the inclusion of these institutions and included the EAEU, ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.), the “Belt and Road,” and omitted the E.U. Another change took place in 2016 when Putin introduced the idea of “Greater Eurasian Cooperation,” which most probably includes the EAEU, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the C.I.S. countries. A year later, he proposed the “Belt and Road” initiative to become part of the “Greater Eurasian Cooperation.” The latter would include the “Belt and Road” initiative, EAEU, S.C.O., and ASEAN.
Practical steps towards cooperation began to be taken in 2015 when after announcing its intention to coordinate the “Belt and Road” initiative and EAEU, the Eurasian Economic Commission began to implement its policy at two levels:1) legislative regulation of trade between China and the EAEU; and 2) selection of investment projects. First, the Commission envisaged mutually beneficial and reciprocal access to each other’s markets for China and EAEU. The coordination of the “Belt and Road” with the EAEU meant not only the transportation of Chinese goods to Europe through the EAEU but also the provision of access for the EAEU goods to the Chinese market. The negotiations between the parties in 2018 led to the adoption of the “The Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation” between China and the EAEU. This agreement was the result of many high-level official meetings and discussions. From 2013 to 2017, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met 20 times, and between 2012-2018 Presidents Nazarbayev and Xi met 18 times. “The Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement” is a non-concessional trade agreement. Such agreements do not provide for customs duty relief for trade between two or more countries. These agreements may cover a wider range of trade and economic cooperation issues, such as non-tariff barriers, regulation and management of borders, barriers to the free movement of capital, and investment regimes. The EAEU member states are not currently ready for a full-fledged trade agreement with China. This can be a challenge to their industries. That is why they were negotiating an “interim agreement” to boost economic cooperation between the EAEU and China, reducing some regulatory barriers in customs management, capital movements, and other areas.
China is the first trade partner for the EAEU as a separate country. Trade turnover between China and EAEU member states in 2019 totalled $132.5 billion. For comparison, the EAEU-China trade turnover in 2018 amounted to $126.3 billion and the EAEU-EU $352.1 billion. The increase of China’s economic presence in the EAEU member states is implemented not only through mutual trade but also through the expansion of direct investments. Most of the direct investments are concentrated in Kazakhstan, where the total accumulated volume has reached $21.5 billion. As of February 1, 2017, there were 2783 enterprises registered in Kazakhstan with the participation of Chinese capital. It is noteworthy that loans play a major role in China’s financing of projects in Central Asia, but the mandatory requirement for the provision of these loans is the involvement of Chinese raw materials, equipment, and labor. The use of such mechanisms allows the maximum use of Chinese manufacturing resources, leading to the increase of China’s economic presence in those countries. This is one of the reasons why the United States now views China as one of its main rivals in the international political arena. This is evidenced by the following excerpt from the U.S. National Security Strategy, published in December 2017: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence… China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favour.” In response to such formulations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the United States not to deliberately distort China’s strategic intentions and set aside those outdated Cold War ideas. Despite the new American approach towards China, Beijing is trying to stay true to its logic of the “new kind of relations between the Superpowers” declared in 2010, which, however, is difficult to implement in the new situation. In February 2017, after the U.S. presidential elections, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister announced that his country was ready to establish a new type of relationship with the United States, based on mutual benefit, non-confrontation, and mutual respect. However, further developments showed that China-US relations have entered a new, more tense phase during Donald Trump’s presidency.
One of the focal points of the struggle between the Superpowers is the Central Asian region, which Russia views as its traditional sphere of influence, while other superpowers, such as the United States and China, also have interests in the region and seek to expand cooperation with regional states. Russia views Central Asia as a “near abroad.” Russia’s dominant position in Central Asia is due to the economic and communication ties inherited from the USSR, personal ties with the Central Asian elites, whose security Moscow safeguarded (arms deliveries, garrisons), and the universal fluency in the Russian language in the region. It is more important than the Central Asian countries are involved in Russia’s regional integration projects – EAEU, CSTO. For Beijing, the importance of the Central Asian region is due to several factors. First, for the region’s implications for Xinjiang. China wants to protect Xinjiang from possible destabilization by turning it into a rich, stable region with a focus on economic development. That is why after the collapse of the USSR, China continued to cooperate with the countries of the Central Asian region, hoping that the increase in trade would lead to prosperity and, consequently, to the stabilization of the Xinjiang province. Another factor that makes Central Asia an important region for China is the prevention of the spread of disliked ideologies such as liberal democracy or Islamic fundamentalism to the Chinese territory.
In this regard, Beijing can count on the leaders of the Central Asian republics. Access to Central Asia’s energy resources and the need to diversify deliveries is China’s other key interest in the region. Russia’s unreliability as an energy provider is forcing China to intensify its involvement in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
U.S. interests in Central Asia can be viewed in the context of three periods. In the first one, which covers the period from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States had three main priorities. 1) to ensure the security of the heritage of Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction; 2) to help the Central Asian countries defend their newly acquired sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity against a possible restoration of Russian neo-imperialism, 3) End Russian monopoly on Central Asian oil and gas pipelines as a means of securing the region’s independence from Russia. The second period followed the events of 9/11, as a result of which military and security considerations became more important factors in U.S. policy. Currently, while the United States is shifting to a smaller role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Russia and China are expressing willingness to expand their influence in the region, Central Asian countries are seeking greater Western involvement to curb Russian-Chinese aspirations. These considerations formed the basis for the development of a new U.S. policy towards Central Asia.
The United States realized the importance of Central Asia back in 1999, when Senator Sam Brownback, in an attempt to draw more attention to Central Asia and the South Caucasus, introduced the “Silk Road” legislation which was, in essence, the U.S. led “New Silk Road” project. A similar bill was also circulated in the House of Representatives. Senator Brownback stressed that the Central Asian and South Caucasian states are “caught between world global forces that seek to have them under their control” and that the United States should focus on the democratization of the region, the creation of free markets, and the development of energy and trade with the region to bolster its independence and pro-Western orientations. The idea of the Silk Road was included in another act (H.R.3194 -Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2000), which entered into force on November 29, 1999. In 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. “New Silk Road” project. During her speech in Chennai, India, Clinton said: “Historically, the nations of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road. … Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road…That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan into India. And it certainly means removing the bureaucratic barriers and other impediments to the free flow of goods and people.”
In Central Asia, another instrument deployed against China is the C5+1 format which includes the five countries of Central Asia together with the U.S.A. On September 27, 2015, during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to establish the new format of C5+1. As a first manifestation of this dialogue platform, John Kerry made a Central Asia tour in early November. The C5+1 meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place in the context of global geopolitical turbulence, which enhanced the role of Central Asia in the U.S. global strategy.
The C5+1 platform enabled the United States to build a high-level engagement with the newly independent countries of the region. In February 2020, the United States announced the United States Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025. The document reflected the logic of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy. Among the policy objectives of the Strategy are to support and strengthen the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian States, individually and as a region, reduce terrorist threats in Central Asia and expand and maintain support for stability in Afghanistan. Though it is not directly provided that they want to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia, this intention becomes clear by the inclusion in the strategy of projects such as CASA-1000 and Lapis Lazuli Corridor. The main purpose of these projects is to establish a link between Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Europe in order to reduce the influence of neighbouring countries and expand cooperation with other countries, also as promulgated in the U.S. National Security Strategy to ensure that “Central Asian states that are resilient against domination by rival powers.” China continues to gain significant influence not only in Central Asia but also in Africa.
Back in 2009, China surpassed the United States by becoming Africa’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade agreements have been signed with more than 40 countries of the continent. In 2000 China’s trade with Africa was $10 billion. According to the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI), it had grown to $220 billion by 2014. Assistance to the region is part of China’s soft power policy in Africa. In 2015, for example, President Xi pledged to provide $100 million in military assistance to the African Union over five years to support peacekeeping initiatives in the region. This increases China’s role in Africa as the one who supports the peacekeeping forces. It is no coincidence that at the end of 2017, China established its first military base outside its own country in the African continent, in Djibouti. This raised the concerns of U.S. policymakers, given the U.S. strategic interests in the region and the proximity of China’s military base to the one of the U.S. Another evidence of the growing Chinese influence in the military sphere is the fact that by the increase of its military budget and by the development of the military industry in 2020, China ranked third in the world, followed by the United States and Russia.
Moreover, given the influence of China’s nuclear capacity in the world security system, the United States regularly invites Beijing to participate in the Russian-American nuclear talks, to which Beijing has always responded negatively. Such an example is the statement made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on June 11 that “China’s nuclear power is not on the same order of magnitude as that of the U.S. and Russia.… Owners of the largest nuclear arsenals have special and primary responsibilities in nuclear disarmament. Considering the current circumstances, the U.S. should respond positively to Russia’s call on extending the New START and further drastically reduce its nuclear arms stockpile, creating conditions for other nuclear-weapon states to join in multilateral nuclear disarmament talks.” This statement shows that China avoids being part of the US-Russia nuclear arms control treaty and does not want to limit the possibility of bringing its nuclear capabilities to the level of US-Russia.
To change the former trajectory of relations between the two countries, the Trump administration has adopted a one-sided, protectionist, “U.S. first” zero-sum game policy. This approach is especially noticeable in Vice President Mike Pence’s speech given on October 4, 2018. It becomes clear from the speech that the United States intends to resist China until it changes its approach on a number of issues, such as discriminatory trade barriers, forced technology transfer, human rights issues in China, problems concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea.
In the context of the “U.S. first” policy, it is necessary to consider the US-China trade wars. Even before his presidency, during the election campaign, President Trump made clear his views on the future of trade and economic relations with China, accusing the latter of manipulating its currency to make its exports more competitive. In other words, China is keeping its currency at an unnaturally low level to boost its exports. This led to the US-China trade war. One of the primary reasons for Donald Trump to set tariffs on Chinese goods was to reduce the trade deficit. In 2017 U.S. trade with China totalled $710 billion, out of which $129.9 billion was exported goods and $505.5 billion was imported goods. Thus, in 2017 U.S. trade deficit with China was $375.6 billion, which is 8.2% ($ 28.6 billion) more than in 2016.
Starting from 2018, the United States and China have set tariffs on each other’s goods as part of this trade war, damaging each other’s economies. Trump sought to resolve the “unfair” trade practice with China and sign a new trade agreement as a result of the ongoing negotiations.The total U.S. tariff applied to Chinese goods so far has been $550 billion, while total Chinese tariffs applied to U.S. goods are $185 billion.
As a result of the ongoing negotiations between the two countries, the first phase of the trade agreement was signed on January 15, 2020. However, since then, U.S. relations with China have deteriorated due to tensions over the coronavirus, Beijing’s curtailing of political freedoms in Hong Kong, and China’s detention of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. In his turn, Trump stated that “the trade deal means less to me now than it did when I made it.” Thus, given the strained relations, the ongoing trade war between the two countries may gain new momentum.
The Domestic Problems of China as leverage in the hands of the U.S.
Another platform for the resumption of US-China strategic rivalry is the South China Sea. Here, US-China rivalry is part of the Trump administration’s policy of a more confrontational approach towards China and the policy of building a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The United States’ greatest concern is not to find a solution to the South China Sea conflict but to balance the growing Chinese influence. In recent years Chinese actions in extensive island-building, base construction as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims of regional neighbours such as the Philippines and Vietnam have heightened concerns that China is gaining effective control of the S.C.S., an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners.
The official position of the U.S. State Department regarding the South China Sea was presented in the July 13, 2020 statement of Secretary of State Pompeo, where he deemed China’s aspirations to unilaterally impose its will on the region, especially its demand for a “Nine-Dashed Line” to have no coherent legal basis. In a unanimous decision on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (the U.S. has not ratified it) to which the P.R.C. is a state party – rejected the P.R.C.’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law. The Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which had brought the arbitration case, on almost all claims. According to Pompeo, “the United States America stands with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and rejects any push to impose “might makes right” in the South China Sea or the wider region.”
This is the United States’ bluntest position yet on China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea, declaring both Beijing’s excessive maritime claims and its intimidation of smaller neighbours to be “unlawful.” It was a departure from the more cautious diplomatic statements that prevailed before, which could pave the way for tougher U.S. reprisals against China. In response, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson called on the United States to “stop its attempts to disrupt and sabotage regional peace and stability.” The new U.S. policy is somehow the first full-fledged rejection of China’s so-called “Nine-Dashed Line” that encompasses most of the South China Sea. According to the Chinese official position, the U.S. statement does not take into account the historical facts related to the South China Sea and breaks the U.S. government’s public commitment of not taking a position. According to the Chinese side, China’s sovereignty, rights, and interests in the South China Sea have been established over the long course of history, in accordance with international law. At the same time, the United States wants to create chaos in the South China Sea in order to benefit from it.
Another important tool in the hands of the United States in countering China is the domestic problems of China. One of these issues is the issue of Taiwan. In this respect, 1972 U.S. President Nixon’s visit to China marked a turning point. At the end of the visit, the two sides issued Shanghai communiqué, where the two countries agreed that it was in everyone’s interests to move towards improving diplomatic relations. As for Taiwan, the communiqué stated that the United States did not dispute the idea of “One China” and declared its “interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.”
Under the next U.S. President Carter, “The 1979 Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” was signed, where the U.S. government reaffirmed its stance on the “One China” policy. The “One China” policy implies that there is only one China, despite the existence of two competing governments, P.R.C. and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The communiqué confirmed that the United States would maintain “cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.” Thus, in order to establish diplomatic relations with China, U.S. relations with Taiwan were limited to an unofficial level. In the same year, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which established a framework of cooperation between the two sides without violating the “One China” policy. The unofficial relationship with Taiwan is maintained through the American Institute in Taiwan, a private, non-profit corporation that handles commercial services, agricultural sales, consular services, and cultural exchanges.
President Trump has expressed quite contradictory views on the “One China” policy. While in 2016, following a phone call with the Taiwanese leader Trump raised doubt as to why the United States should commit to pursuing a “One China” policy if they had not reached an agreement with China on other issues, including trade. In February 2017, during a telephone conversation with the Chinese president, Trump, shortly after taking office, agreed to “respect that policy.” It is very likely that the Taiwan factor will be used against China in the future. An example of this is the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows for high-level meetings between U.S. “Taiwanese leaders.” After taking office, President Trump reaffirmed Taiwan’s strategic importance. Accordingly, since 2017, Washington has increased security cooperation with Taiwan, especially in the field of counterterrorism. In addition, the sale of $1.42 billion in weapons in 2017 became the first such deal under the Trump administration.
The sale of arms to Taiwan can be considered as one of the most problematic points of US-China relations. The third Joint USA-China Communiqué stated that the question of United States arms sales to Taiwan was not settled in the course of negotiations. At the same time, the U.S. government stated that it does not intend to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the volume of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. Moreover, it intended to gradually reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan over a period of time, leading to a final resolution.In “the Act on Relations with Taiwan,” the defence arms sales is mentioned as an element of U.S. policy towards Taiwan. Another act of 2018 included more rigid formulations, that is, “the President should conduct regular transfers of defence articles to Taiwan that are tailored to meet the existing and likely future threats from the People’s Republic of China.” The sale of weapons, of course, is negatively perceived in China. The evidence is China’s response to the U.S. State Department’s approval of the sale of $2 billion weapons in 2019. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that the move severely violates the U.S. commitment to the “One-China” policy and the three China-US joint communiques and damages US-China relations.
In terms of arms sales, the United States claims that the third communiqué did not spell out a date for cutting off U.S. arms supplies, that the reduction in arms sales depends on the maintenance of a military balance between China and Taiwan. Moreover, that communiqué is considered as a political document that is not legally binding, whereas the “Taiwan Relations Act” is U.S. law. 
In US-China relations, especially for the period of 2019-2020, the issue of Hong Kong has had a significant influence. With its special status of “One country, two systems,” Hong Kong differs from China’s tightly controlled economic and financial system, which includes import duties, value-added taxes, control of the capital, and limited labour mobility. U.S. relations with Hong Kong are regulated by the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. The United States views Hong Kong as separate from the rest of China in political, economic, commercial, and other spheres, as long as the latter remains “sufficiently autonomous” and exempts from a number of duties imposed on China.
The situation in Hong Kong escalated in 2019 when in April, a bill was introduced which would have allowed for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. This was followed by demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of participants. Though the bill was finally suspended, the demonstrations continued. The Beijing authorities described the demonstrators as dangerous separatists and accused foreign powers of backing them. The events were followed by a tough U.S. response. On November 27, the U.S. President signed the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.” This Act, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, provided an annual report on compliance with unique treatment, as well as re-exports from Hong Kong in violation of U.S. laws. The Act also provided for a procedure by which the president could impose sanctions or travel restrictions on those responsible for the extradition, arbitrary detention, or torture of any person in Hong Kong, as well as other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
The situation was aggravated once again in 2020 when China adopted the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” There was an immediate response from the U.S. State Department, which described the law as “draconian” national security legislation on Hong Kong aimed to destroy the territory’s autonomy. A week earlier, the State Department had already imposed visa restrictions on officials who allegedly undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy. It was also announced that the export of defense and dual-use technologies would be stopped.
This was followed by the adoption of the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” by Congress. This Act also received bipartisan support and was signed by the U.S. President on July 14. The Act imposed sanctions on foreign individuals and entities that materially contribute to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. On the same day, the president issued an Executive Order where he described the situation as “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. As a result, the differential treatment of Hong Kong was suspended as it ceased to be considered as “sufficiently autonomous.”
Another domestic issue of China, which the U.S. often uses against China in the international arena, is the issue of Tibet. The United States was not largely interested in Tibet until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt, in order to establish a supply route through Tibet and into China, sent a letter of introduction and presents it to the Dalai Lama, thus establishing the president’s first official U.S. contact with Tibet. Later, President Bush became the first U.S. President to officially receive the Dalai Lama in Washington in April 1991, while in September 2006, President G. W. Bush honoured the Dalai Lama with the highest civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal. At present, U.S. presidents, Cabinet members, and Congressmen are calling on the Chinese government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and to end human rights abuses in Tibet. A similar call was enshrined in the Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which states that in May 2019, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad visited Tibet and urged Chinese leaders to open “substantive dialogue” with the Dalai Lama.
To pursue U.S. interests in Tibet, numerous bills and resolutions have been passed, including the historic “Tibetan Policy Act of 2002”, which aims to support Tibetans’ aspirations to protect their identities. On the other hand, China, without changing its policy towards Tibet, accuses the United States of interfering in China’s internal affairs. Changes in the U.S. approach to China are reflected in the reciprocity of trade deals, especially the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which was enacted by President Donald Trump in December 2018. This Act was followed by another bill, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, which the House of Representatives adopted on January 28 and submitted for the Senate discussion.
It is noteworthy that the issue of religious freedom in Tibet is under the special attention of Washington. The abovementioned bill addresses the issue of the succession of the Dalai Lama, calling on Beijing to respect the decision of the Dalai Lama and his followers to appoint their chosen successor. The bill imposes sanctions and a visa ban on any Chinese officials who interfere in the selection of a successor to the Dalai Lama. According to the USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer, “the bill not only sends a strong signal that the U.S. support the role of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders in their selection of the next Dalai Lama, but it will also consider any interference from the Chinese government as a violation of religious freedom.”
As for U.S. response to China’s policy towards the Uyghur Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, it should be noted that the United States is following these developments closely, and anti-Chinese bills and acts are regularly passed. In October 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that it had blocked certain shipments of goods suspected of involving forced labor from five countries, including China. It was suspected that the Chinese goods, sportswear made for a U.S. company, used forced labor from a Xinjiang re-education camp. In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it would add 28 Chinese companies to the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) “entity list” under the Export Administration Regulations (E.A.R.) for their connections to China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. This measure implies licensing requirements prior to the sale or transfer of U.S. items to these entities. An additional nine P.R.C. entities were added to the list in May 2020 by the Department of Commerce.
In October 2019, the State Department announced visa restrictions (under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act) on the Chinese government and the Communist Party officials, who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang. On June 17, 2020, President Trump signed the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020” (P.L. 116-145). The Act will impose visa and economic sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Despite allegations of violence and arrests of Uyghurs, according to the officials and the governor of the Xinjiang province, these “vocational training centers” are an effective and “pioneering” approach to counter “terrorism.” Moreover, “most of the graduates from the vocational training centres have been reintegrated into society, and more than 90 percent of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes”. In the case of the Uyghurs, a number of countries have expressed their views in favour of China. An example is the July 12, 2019 letter from the ambassadors of 37 countries (including member-states from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) to the President of the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter praises China’s significant achievements in the field of human rights, such as its openness and transparency, as a result of which a number of diplomats, international representatives, and journalists visited Xinjiang, and what they witnessed completely contradicted media reports.
On July 9, 2020, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a number of Chinese officials, including a senior Communist Party member, for human rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uyghur minority. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that “The United States will not stand idly by as the C.C.P. carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, responding to the secretary state’s statement, said that Beijing would take reciprocal measures against the relevant U.S. institutions and individuals for “egregious” conduct on Xinjiang-related issues. Thus, in parallel to deteriorating US-China relations, the domestic problems of China have become an important tool in the hands of the United States to counteract its influence.
The Trump administration has quite often used the factor of religion in both domestic and foreign policy considerations. It was also used against China. It is noteworthy that on December 18, 2019, State Department designated it as a “Country of Particular Concern” for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. At the same time, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 2020 report states that in 2019 conditions for religious freedom in China have deteriorated. For these reasons, the Commission recommended the State Department to designate China as a “Country of Particular Concern” for 2020 as well and to impose targeted sanctions on Chinese government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom. In addition, the United States is trying to internationalize the issue of religious freedom by creating the International Religious Freedom Alliance, which was officially launched in February 2020 and includes 29 countries. The Alliance is also actively used against China, as evidenced by the Secretary of State’s often harsh statements on religious freedom issue in China, particularly in 2019 in his address at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uyghurs “stain of the century.”
Thus, though the United States has domestic bodies dealing with religious freedom, such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Office of International Religious Freedom, the United States formed an international alliance involving other states to give international legitimacy to its statements and actions concerning the issues of religious freedom. In this case, it will be used to pressure China to make certain concessions.
The global Superpower must have first-class military-political capabilities (in line with all the standards of the day), an economy to support such capabilities and requirements. Conceding only to the United States and Russia, China continues to grow in the military-industrial spheres. China’s “flight path” of development does not show a downward trend. On the contrary, even in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, China continues to maintain significant economic growth.
With the typical role of Global Superpower in the securitization or desecuritization of all or almost all regions as a threat, guarantor, ally, or, if necessary, an intervener, China continues to move towards this status spreading its influence in Asia, Europe, and other regions. On its path, China will be continuously using the full toolkit of soft power investment policy. The main method of spreading its influence will be the implementation of a major investment policy. The main targets will be infrastructure investments, especially when they are to be interconnected with the “Belt and Road” Initiative.
China’s goal of becoming a Global Superpower can be considered the year 2049, when China will fully launch the “Belt and Road” initiative, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the P.R.C. Fierce competition between the U.S.A. and China will continue over the next three decades. It is not easy for the United States to cede its status as the world’s number one superpower; it will use every possible means in the path of this competition to prevent China’s rise or break its fast pace. From sanctions to pressures for issues concerning China’s internal affairs- these will be the main instruments of pressure on China. The United States will focus on issues related to China’s national-religious minorities, which the United States considers China’s Achilles’ heel. The United States will exert pressure on both bilateral and multilateral platforms, from the International Religious Freedom Alliance to other U.N. agencies. It is not ruled out that the United States will define China’s actions in connection with the Uyghurs as genocide, which will become an additional tool of pressure in the hands of the international community. It is obvious that the United States perceives the full potential and impact of the “Belt and Road” initiative for the entire Eurasian region, with all the political and economic levers that China will gain as a major investor and initiator. In this regard, there is a consensus in the domestic political life of the United States between both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in this sense, it is of no difference which party representative will be the leader of the White House in the coming decades.
Thus, one of the main stages of the competition will be Central Asia, as this region has the utmost importance for the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative. The initiative will provide the fastest ground route with Russia, consequently with the EAEU, and become an infrastructure platform for a large economic union. From the geopolitical viewpoint, Central Asia is becoming a region of fundamental importance also for the United States, and American policy will be aimed at deepening relations and gaining influence within these countries. The creation of a strong regional alliance between the states will allow those countries to more effectively balance the spread of Chinese influence if the United States manages to weaken Russian and Chinese influence in the region. The “Belt and Road” initiative will be a lifeline for sustainable development for Russia’s and EAEU’s economy. In the meantime, China-US relations will bear both typical and atypical components of the Cold War.
Atypical components will be the deep-rooted partnership between American and Chinese businesses, which will be continuous, but both sides will try to create more favourable conditions for their business, using the protectionist policy. At the same time, the United States will spare no effort to diversify its businesses and investments; such an opportunity will be considered as India, 5 Central Asian states, Vietnam, as well as Latin American countries. American products made in China, including modern equipment, will either be transferred to the United States as a result of a more favourable tax environment or to other countries. The withdrawal of the U.S. and allied investments from the Chinese market will slow the economic growth, but it is clear that U.S. businesses, which are always finding more convenient ways for doing business, will find the most favourable mechanisms in the political alignments to avoid shocks as much as possible.
The typical characteristics of the Cold War will be the arms race, the preservation and spread of political, economic, and cultural influence, the conquest of new spheres of influence for China, and the U.S. efforts to counter that. The main arenas of that competition will be Europe, Asia, and Africa. It will be quite difficult for China to spread its influence in Latin American countries, especially if in countries like Cuba or Venezuela, revolutions, coups, or other changes of power take place and the political powers loyal to Washington come to power. However, these countries will always be open to Chinese investments and mega-projects. The competition will continue in Central Asia, Middle East, South Caucasus, and in the regions that will be considered transit routes for the “Belt and Road” initiative. The problems of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and the protection of human rights in various Chinese provinces, such as the issue of the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, will be actively used against China. It is not ruled out that the United States will establish deeper relations with Taiwan up to the start of the process of recognizing Taiwan’s independence, which is unlikely in the foreseeable future, as it could provoke Chinese military intervention.
The post-coronavirus world will also be remarkable by the precedents of lawsuits against China in different international tribunals. Various countries will file lawsuits against Beijing, demanding compensation from China for the damages caused by the spread of the coronavirus, and in case many of them succeed, that would create an additional financial burden for Beijing, which can slow down the Chinese economic development and spread of influence. In conclusion, the U.S. and its allies will put pressure on China in all possible directions, trying to slow down economic growth, weaken its influence, discredit China for its poor human rights record, which will yield tangible results in the short term, but in the long-term perspective, China will overcome all the difficulties but would pay a high price both in terms of reputation and finances.
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Originally published in Armenian Journal of Political Science 2(14) 2020.