Nobody expected that the first US-China high-level meeting in Anchorage, Alaska would lead to an open adversarial situation. Facing each other, the two groups seemed to suggest that the two superpowers were locked in a new Cold War in a tumultuous start sans the usual diplomatic courtesies that happen when diplomats meet for the first time. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their counterparts Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi took uncompromising positions for the whole world to see.
After both sides displayed a belligerent and uncompromising stance, they seemed to have reached some minor concessions without any radical change in China’s political system or foreign policy.
The basic problem with US-China relations has always been China’s totalitarian society against America’s democratic foundation. It’s the same problem that the US had during the First Cold War when the US was trying to stop Soviet expansionism. Now, the US is trying to contain China’s expansionist moves around the world. It’s the same playbook with different adversaries.
First Cold War
During the First Cold War, which began in 1947 with the implementation of the Truman Doctrine, America’s foreign policy goal of containing Soviet geopolitical expansion, ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
This led to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 among the US, United Kingdom, France, and 11 other European countries. They agreed that an armed attack against any of them would be considered an attack against them all. Later on, Greece and Turkey joined NATO. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 10 former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO in 1997. Eventually the alliance expanded to 30 members, the largest military alliance in the history of the world.
It must be remembered that back in 1960, the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told the United Nations General Assembly, “Socialism is replacing capitalism.” Sixty years later, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “The East is rising, while the West is in decline.” Evidently, Xi believes in it, which gives him a false sense of security that could lead to US-China military confrontation knowing that China would take advantage of any demonstration of weakness on the part of the US.
Cuban missile crisis
This reminds me of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when war between the US and the Soviet Union almost broke out when the Soviet Union attempted to bring Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba. When President Kennedy found out about it, he directed a blockade of the Russian ships. For 13 days, the world watched the standoff in the Caribbean Sea.
Finally, Khrushchev backed down and ordered the ships withdrawn. In 1964, the Kremlin stripped him from power for his recklessness that led to the Soviets’ embarrassment during the Cuban missile crisis.
The ascendancy of Biden to the presidency changed the dynamics in US-China relations, which has reached a boiling point with China’s increasingly aggressive posture against Taiwan, which she claims as a province of China. She warned the US to stay away from Taiwan or face the consequences. But the US has made it clear that she won’t sit by and abandon a nation that she has formally committed to support and protect.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, an arms deal was sent to Congress for approval. Beijing claimed that the weapons are offensive, which could be used to attack the Chinese forces’ assembly area on the mainland coast before departure or their vessels while crossing the Taiwan Strait in the event China decides to invade Taiwan. China is angered by the deal saying it “seriously damages China’s sovereignty and security” and threatened to retaliate. The US is obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the means for defense, hence the series of weapons deal that the two countries had inked in the past that included 66 F-16 fighter jets worth $8 billion, the largest weapons sale in recent history.
But the Taiwan question is just the tip of the iceberg. China has always been jealous of American superiority. When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he envisioned the “Chinese Dream” as the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” It is described as achieving the material goal of China becoming a “moderately well-off society” by 2021, and the modernization goal of China becoming fully developed nation by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. So far China is on track.
The rapid deterioration in US-China relations has taken many by surprise. US-China rivalry has always been moderated by the need to work together on economic, financial, and geopolitical issues. But their relationship has gone awry due to recriminations over the coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed the depth of their mutual mistrust.
China thinks the US is bent on containing China to prolong the declining power of the US while denying China her rightful place in the sun. Meanwhile, the US has increasingly believed that China is threatening US security interests; thus, undermining her prosperity, interfering in her democracy, and challenging her values. Didn’t we go through this same exercise during the US-Soviet Union rivalry?
But world dominion, which has always been communist China’s global ambition, is hampered by the existence of the US, which China is trying to replace as the sole superpower. But the US is hard to replace. Its democratic foundation is solidly unshakable, whereas, China’s ruling body has to impose a communist and totalitarian rule over her 1.3 billion people. Simply put, democratization of the Chinese society is hard – if not impossible – to accomplish because of the corrupt and godless ruling class. Eventually, China would find herself in the same situation as the Soviet Union, which has brought her own downfall by incessant internal power struggle.
Another factor that has detrimental effect on Chinese military power is that China’s navy – although far more warships than the US – is inferior to the US simply because the US has more experience in actual naval warfare than China. Besides, American naval weaponry is far better in technology.
A few years ago, Rear Admiral Luo Yuan, a supporter of communist orthodoxy and rabidly nationalist, anti-American, and anti-Western, said that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is the weakest link in the Chinese armed forces. But what surprised – and shocked — his audience was his statement, “Although my country’s military strength has improved significantly in recent years, there is still a clear gap between China and the United States and Russia. Although our country is recognized by all countries in the world in terms of the army, our country is far inferior to the United States and Russia in terms of the navy.”
US-China naval confrontation
Last April 9, the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group and the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit – ready for action — sailed to the South China Sea to lend support to the beleaguered Philippine Navy, which was sent by the Philippine government to monitor the 220 Chinese vessels that were parked off the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
By the time the combined US Navy and Marine Corps team reached the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef, only 10 of the Chinese vessels remained. Apparently, the Chinese militia force ran off to avoid confrontation with the Americans.
Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine, said in a statement, “The combined Navy and Marine Corps team has been a stabilizing force in this region for more than a century and will continue to support all who share in the collective vision of peace, stability, and freedom of the seas.” Touché!
Late last month, Secretary of State Blinken affirmed the U.S. commitment to defending the Philippines if she was attacked. He issued a statement, saying, “The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the [People’s Republic of China]’s maritime militia amassing at [Whitsun Reef]. We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.”
Many geopolitical experts believe that the South China Sea is where the next global conflict is going to be. For as long as China claims the South China Sea as her territory, there would always be territorial disputes among the six claimants – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China. And with the US affirming her commitment to defend the Philippines if attacked, the region could spark a shooting war.
Are we seeing the start of a Biden Doctrine, which is: To contain Chinese geopolitical expansion? With that, it would seem that a Second Cold War looms ahead.