Relations between the United States and China – All signals point to confrontation

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discuss war in Ukraine in March 2022 (dpa / picture alliance /
Geopolitically, China wants to expand its power further. For the United States, therefore, the growing superpower remains the biggest threat in the long run. This is how US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it recently.
What is the criticism of the United States?

China’s hopes of becoming a great power have long been a thorn in the side of the United States. In a keynote speech at the end of May, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken described China as “the biggest long-term challenge to international order”. The global order must be defended, the chief diplomat believes – above all with international treaties and agreements. Under President Xi Jinping, the country had become “more oppressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”

The main point of criticism at the moment is the intensification of the conflict over Taiwan, which China considers part of its own territory. China’s “rhetoric” is “increasingly provocative,” Blinken said in his keynote address.

What also makes cooperation with China more difficult is the systemic conflict, the core of which is ideological, said Sebastian Heilmann, head of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Trier. On the other hand, there is an authoritarian system that represents different ideas of order and Western democracies that cannot accept this system in China. “This is clearly heading towards a cold war situation and it will also have economic consequences.”

How does the United States react strategically?

In response to increasing pressure from China, the United States under President Joe Biden launched a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region – the so-called Quad, an informal four-way alliance between the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Common to the Allies is that they see China as a potential threat. China has recently been very aggressive towards countries like Japan and India. Hong Kong and the pressure on Taiwan also play a role. China’s aggressive foreign policy towards Taiwan is the most obvious element of Chinese imperial policy – and the most dangerous, according to Dlf security expert Marcus Pindur.

US President Biden is therefore increasingly dependent on deterrence – also in the case of Taiwan. Biden himself had already promised last year to provide military support in the event of an attack; his staff withdrew, however. This was also the case with Biden’s renewed announcement as part of his trip to Asia on May 23 in Tokyo. He said the country was ready to defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese attack, but reiterated the day after it intends to continue its protracted policy of “strategic ambiguity”.

While this guarantees Taiwan support to build its defense capabilities, the United States has not explicitly promised to provide military support to the island in the event of a war. The Chinese government had expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with Biden’s comments. “No one should underestimate the strong determination, determination and strong skills of the Chinese people,” warned Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Political scientist Heilmann sees Biden’s statements as an attempt to “intensify the deterrence without going into concrete risks of escalation, for example by stationing US troops in Taiwan”.

What is China’s position?

China sees the intensification of US alliances in East Asia as an attempt to surround China. From China’s side, the United States used only its leading role for its own interests and did not allow other countries that would also rise up to breathe, political scientist Sebastian Heilmann explained.

The government in Beijing had therefore “strictly” rejected the latest allegations from the United States. Blinken’s speech spread false information, exaggerated the Chinese threat, interfered in China’s internal affairs and slandered China’s domestic and foreign policy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized in his statement. Blinken’s comments once again showed that Washington wanted to “curtail and suppress China’s development and maintain US supremacy.”

China has repeatedly criticized the fact that the United States operated a global bloc and nurtured a cold war mentality. China therefore wants to question the leading role played by the United States, which has actually been undisputed since 1991, and replace it with a multipolar order, says Heilmann.

How does China react geopolitically?

Political scientist Heilmann says the country will always deny that China is actively pursuing an expansionist policy. However, there are always territorial conflicts, such as in the South China Sea, where China, contrary to all promises, builds artificial islands with military facilities, or in relation to Taiwan “where, of course, there is reunification.” The pressure on Taiwan is in the form of five million cyber attacks a day or military attacks in the airspace are now also very visible.

The Chinese government regularly sends planes into Taiwan’s defensive airspace to strengthen their demands on the island and to put pressure on Taiwan’s air force.

The Ministry of Defense in Taipei did not announce until Monday evening (May 30) that 30 Chinese planes had penetrated Taiwan’s so-called defense airspace. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the action an example of “increasingly provocative” activities.

Shortly before, the Chinese Maritime Safety Authority had also announced new naval maneuvers in the South China Sea. The maneuvers were to take place nearly 25 kilometers off the coast of southern China’s Hainan province.

What impact has the Ukraine war had on the conflict?
According to Heilmann, the war in Ukraine has made the situation even worse. There is even more resistance to the West than before the war.

But the war has also intensified the front line in East Asia because there are fears that China may act in the same way as Russia. China is still not distancing itself from Russian actions in Ukraine. It could therefore mean that China could take the same measures in East Asia, for example by taking Taiwan by force or participating in military activities in territorial conflicts.

What role do economic factors currently play?
According to Heilmann, a political scientist, Americans have so far been very fixated on the military and security. But now there are efforts to build an Indo-Pacific economic structure. It is an attempt to build supply and value chains around China. Many countries would also be interested in this. The economic component is thus added to the security policy issues. “It’s a real competition.” It also depends on whether America remains stable and able to act in the coming years.

China also wants to expand its economic interests in the region. Foreign Minister Wang recently campaigned for a co-operation agreement in Pacific island states such as Solomon Islands and Fiji, but it has so far failed. China had reportedly offered the states multimillion-dollar aid, the prospect of a free trade agreement and access to China’s huge market. In return, China wanted, among other things, to be involved in police training and the expansion of cyber security in the states, as well as access to mineral resources.

Western countries then criticized Beijing’s efforts. The United States spoke of “opaque” agreements, and Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also warned of China’s growing influence in the region.

Sources: dlf, afp, adpd, kho

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