Are the United States and China Heading Towards A New Cold War?
Since the Dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, the United States had been left as the sole superpower dominating global geopolitics.
However, since the People’s Republic of China started to open up its economy in the late 1970s, the United States found itself competing with the most populous country in the world.
Since 1978, China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty by easing its trade restrictions and making extensive economic reforms. These economic policies fuelled its rise to its current status as the largest economy in the world in terms of GDP (PPP) and the second-largest economy in terms of GDP (Nominal).
Moreover, China has also found itself becoming increasingly militarily stronger. China has built more than 3000 acres of islands to solidify its disputed South China Sea claim. It has also started to build military bases overseas.
China’s meteoric military and economic rise have not gone under the radar of the United States. The U.S. and China have been at standoffs in Taiwan and the South China Sea. Moreover, China has also been steadily becoming more and more critical for U.S. foreign policy as the countries find themselves rivals.
The U.S-China relationship deteriorated sharply under the Presidency of Donald Trump. With these tensions increasing due to China’s militarization of the South China Sea and the reports of Chinese espionage in the U.S., The Trump Administration labelled China a “strategic competitor”, starting with the 2017 National Security Strategy.
The Trump Administration also launched a trade war against China, limited trade, and increased tariffs for Chinese products. Chinese students also had to face more visa restrictions to get into U.S. educational institutions.
After the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, the U.S. also blamed China for its lack of transparency about the pandemic. Subsequently, the relations between the U.S. and China fell to their lowest. On May 24, 2020, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that ties with the U.S. were on the “brink of a new Cold War” after tensions over the COVID-19 pandemic increased to new highs.
Fears of a new Cold War developed even more after a joint statement by Quad in March 2021. The Quad members described “a shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and a “rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas,” which the Quad members state are needed to counter Chinese maritime claims.
The Quad also pledged to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic. It held a meeting that also included representatives from New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam.
This was widely regarded as an intention to restrain China’s growing power. China’s foreign ministry criticized the Quad’s joint statement, which said the Quad “openly incites discord” among regional powers in Asia.
However, despite the recent rivalry, U.S. president Joe Biden said in his September 2021 speech to the United Nations General Assembly that the U.S. is “not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”
Biden also said that the U.S. would cooperate “with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges,” despite “intense disagreement in other areas because we’ll all suffer the consequences of our failure.”
However, despite tensions being at their all-time high, there might not yet be a clear answer to whether or not the U.S and China will be amidst a Cold War in the future, or whether or not they are already in the state of a Cold War. However, further rivalry between these two global giants might bring unavoidable conflict in the future.