The US-China confrontation has deep roots

China is almost as strong as the United States, militarily and economically. This fact has spurred conflicts between the two nations on many fronts.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Collage: AFP
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Collage: AFP

The deterioration of US-China relations in recent years is due to many reasons, including factors from the domestic politics of both countries. But the most important factor is a dramatic structural change: China is becoming economically and militarily on par with the United States.

First of all talk about economics. Leader’s vision and reforms have paved the way for a period of rapid and prolonged economic growth for China. This country has become a large global factory.

Since the late 1970s, China’s economic growth has rarely been less than 5%, while that of the US has been around 2.5% during the same period. This gives China not only wealth but also opportunities to acquire modern technology.

On the basis of stronger economy and new technology, China has the conditions to significantly upgrade its military capabilities. China has built and procured modern warships, fighters, and rockets for its military.

Past the golden period in US-China relations

The second half of the Cold War saw the beginning of the golden era in US-China relations.

After the Cultural Revolution, China chose a strategy of seeking prosperity through the path of peace and adopting a market economy. This is a prerequisite for a new relationship with the US. But there is another important thing that regulates the relationship between the two. Because China was much weaker than the United States, China’s foreign policy then reflected Deng’s thought that Beijing should avoid policies that would upset the United States.

Perhaps the most stern test of this Chinese approach was the 1999 accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese citizens.

Then, despite the pressure to have a stronger response, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin had to choose a policy of expressing anger while keeping bilateral relations unchanged.

Likewise, on the American side, when the country is much stronger than China, it can tolerate being benevolent towards its opponent, that is, tolerating many of the things that China does to America. The US government was then willing to “be patient” with China, hoping that at a time when China was as strong as the United States, America’s will would be able to persuade China to be its friend instead of an enemy.

Although better than before, the Chinese military in the post-Cold War era does not pose a major obstacle to America’s strategic freedom in the region.

However, in recent years, China has reset its parameters by narrowing the gap with the United States and this has catalyzed changes in the internal political thinking of both countries about this relationship.

China’s soaring growth clearly prompted leader Xi Jinping to give up Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy and move to impose Chinese strategic policy on the region, even if this. of great concern to both the US and its neighbors.

In the past, expressing ambiguous attitudes about US influence in the Asia-Pacific, China now constantly criticizes it, while pursuing territorial ambitions in the East and East China Seas.

America recognizes that a mighty China can do great harm to American interests. According to the latest report from the US Department of Defense, the US military will now have to accept great losses if they engage in military conflict with Chinese forces in the Western Pacific rim.

Meanwhile, China’s economic strength helps it build a great political influence in the region. Even America’s allies such as South Korea and Australia have to consider carefully before following the US against China in a political or strategic dispute.

America is forced to take strong action

These developments explain why the US government is taking big steps to reduce some aspects of US-China economic cooperation and other forms of bilateral exchange.

Even in operations where the United States benefits absolutely, they tend to cut cooperation that they see will bring additional benefits to China or create long-term loopholes for the United States.

As a result, the United States no longer holds back a trade deficit with China, its dependence on China for some essential supplies, the unfair treatment of foreign investors in China, and China’s easy access to American technology and American education.

From the current US perspective, the Xi Jinping administration is a setback in both domestic and foreign policy. However, Washington’s response to Xi may be more lenient if Xi’s intentions are not backed by strong Chinese powers.

The US and China may have put the distrust of each other aside in the past, but that has changed in the era of truly equal competition for influence in the same region.

This era of competition will not come for a short time because the main reason for the deteriorating relationship between the US and China is deeply rooted, not because the two current leaders of the two countries.

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