There is thriving concern regarding a possible “new Cold War” between the United States and China with tensions between the two countries emanating from the scopes of technology,investment and trade to military, Taiwan and Hong Kong etc. The Covid-19 pandemic has also lately fueled the anti-Chinese sentiment.
The pandemic has placed the US economy in the ICU. The US’ international role has been under a severe test and deteriorating. The coincidental surge of Black Lives Matter protests in the country has become another hot potato at the hand of the US administration and dealt a vast blow to its global image－especially in light of China’s economic resilience and soaring strategic power.
The acknowledged role of the US as a global leader over the past decades was heavily dependent on its economic and military power. Another crucial factor in terms of collective global consciousness was the trust in the US’ capability and zeal to coordinate a united global response to a crisis. However, things have taken a different twist recently.
US has become a chief nonconformist when it comes to sorting out global issues. It withdrew from UNESCO and UN Human Rights Council, had a spat with the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization, abandoned Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, unilaterally terminating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Treaty of Open Skies, and threatening to halt the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, all of which would put European security in jeopardy.
The world is sleepwalking into a new and bizarre war between US and China. US policymakers are confronted by economic and geopolitical challenges, and are even pondering decoupling the two economies in the post-pandemic period. But, decoupling of the two economies could culminate in the re-emergence of competing blocs, as was the case during the Cold War.
Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank and US trade representative, addressed a group of top US executives with business in China with a warning and a challenge. At Washington’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, with Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, in the audience, Mr Zoellick asked if the gathering was “ready” for a slide into US-China conflict.
The dynamics between major powers and the coronavirus pandemic have redefined international relations. US allies － European countries, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia-could indirectly be impelled to make some hard choices. Despite the fact that their economies are firmly linked with the Chinese economy, with only five months to go before the US presidential election, the US leader may demand that they choose between Beijing and Washington. No wonder European Union member states are reconsidering and refiguring their overall relationship with Beijing.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the top 10 world economies by 2050 will comprise of four Asian countries: China, India, Indonesia and Japan, with the US in the third place. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in his op-ed in The Washington Post that Asia will become more and more significant in economic, security and technological terms, emphasizing that he believes the 21st century will be “Asia century”.
Borrell stated that China is getting more influential and assertive, and its rise is stunning and generates respect nevertheless also raises many questions and fears. But, he added, he does not subscribe to the claim that “we are reaching a Thucydides moment”, and stressed the importance of a relationship resting on trust, transparency and reciprocity. Admittedly, the EU is globally connected and cannot afford to debilitate all ties with China or block global supply chains. It needs to reject the bipolar logic of choosing between the US and Chinese economies, and instead establish a China policy to move toward post-pandemic equilibrium, by taking into consideration its strategic involvement in NATO. Moreover, Europeans ought to avert the siege mentality － that the fundamental threat comes from the outside.
The EU and its member states can improve further cooperation with China whist handling their differences, whether on trade or human rights, through dialogues instead of US-type confrontation. And, unlike the US, China has been in favor of a stronger EU.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen posited that China and the EU have a lot to cooperate in accomplishing the “Next Generation EU Vision” including those on developing a digital economy and a climate neutral continent.
There seems to be a growing pressure on EU to choose sides. But, unlike many countries in Asia,Africa and Latin America, the EU should attach to impartiality and instead chase after its own interests and values by avoiding being instrumentalized by one or the other
While politicians in China and US should do their best in a bid to avoid a “new Cold War”, Europe, which suffered tremendously owing to the Cold War, can play a key role in preventing such a dangerous scenario from becoming reality. Therefore, the expected China-EU Summit in Leipzig scheduled for autumn is expected be an important moment to achieve this