Opinion / 18 December 2019, 09:50am / David Monyae
Robert D Kaplan, a highly renowned scholar in international relations wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that, “a new Cold War has begun”.
He said “the constant, interminable Chinese computer hacks of American warships” maintenance records, Pentagon personnel records, and so forth constitute war by other means.
After a prolonged trade war and endless rounds of negotiations, the US and China, appear to have eased up global markets by agreeing to sign the so-called “phase one deal’’.
Regardless of all the noise about President Donald Trump’s usage of tariffs as a tool to enforce compliance from opponents, the US-China trade war has been a dismal disaster.
It has produced no tangible results for American people.
However, as Kaplan stated, the prevailing circumstance, “sends financial markets momentarily skyward”. Despite this positive development the US-China relations appear to be worsening by the day.
This ranges from the diplomatic arena, South China Sea, student enrolments in American universities, the Belt and Road Initiative and space. Where did it all start?
There are many other influential American scholars who propagate the need for America to take a hard position in response to the rise of China and military assertiveness of Russia. For instance, Michael Pillsbury’s book, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower argues fervidly that the US should push back against China in all economic, diplomatic, scientific and military arenas.
This kind of thinking has by and large informed the Trump administration's foreign policy orientation. During the Cold War, the US had a much better strategy and tactic when it responded to the then USSR.
Firstly, it had better scholars with clear workable ideas of containment such as George F Kennan who wrote, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" published in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1947.
Peter Navarro, Steve Bannon, and Marco Rubio do not match the calibre of Kennan. With the coming presidential election in the US in 2020, it is expected that anti-Chinese sentiments will escalate. One of the most efficient ways of strengthening one’s support base is appealing to the fears of possible electorates.
The fundamental difference between America and China is what Henry Kissinger describes their exceptionalism. US exceptionalism is missionary, the compulsion to look to its world view as a universal standard to which the rest of the world should be converted.
China’s exceptionalism is cultural; it does not export its world view. It only asks that the rest of the world respect China’s world view and does not interfere with it. The US is currently unnerved by China’s global inroads through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other ways. What compounds America’s fear is the fact that the rest of the world seems to be courting China.
The BRI has been accepted in certain European countries, such as Italy, that are usually expected to be more aligned with US initiatives.China’s emphasis on win-win co-operation is gaining traction especially in regions of the world where economic advancement trumps politics.
In this case, America attempts to politicise relations with China are a desperate act and, if the US does not offer alternative financial incentives to other countries, then we should expect that China’s appeal will continue to grow and this might be at the expense of US popularity.
It is not easy to predict what will happen in the near future of American politics. Trump, or whoever might come after him, will have to temper America’s approach to China. The future of the world will be influenced, to a great extent, by Sino-American relations.
* Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.