Has the US lost?

THE tension of the Washington-Beijing conflict sets the discourse for global geopolitics for the next century, underlying the spectrum of fierce competition in various spheres.

The curtain raiser will be Washington’s attempts to maximise and take advantage of the power gap, while Beijing will align to a strategic policy challenging the existing Western system, and push the global order into its own periphery.

Washington’s primary objective should be a series of strategic measures to curb Beijing’s aggressive expansion of power in the Indo Pacific, which is increasingly being squeezed by China’s targeted, and comprehensive push under President Xi Jinping.

China’s development as a modern and dominant country under Vision 2049 – which is based on the aspirations of the ‘Chinese dream’ and the ‘great rejuvenation of China’ – brings a complex interweaving flow of intentions to global actors.

This mixture of anxiety and fascination with China’s return to power, as well as the revival of the perceived Eastern culture and influence, will shape the security and power architecture in the region for decades to come.

Washington – which previously tried to encourage Beijing to transit to democracy through capital and technical assistance – is now realising this policy is backfiring and actually coming at a greater cost.

The US is forced to remodel the game in the face of China’s sudden transformation with unclear intentions, posing the greatest threat to Washington since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The White House needs to align its resources against Beijing as a priority, with partisan objectives and policy differences halted in the face of the singular threat.

The notion of the Chinese stealing American lunches right under their very noses, worsened by the fact that the American elites have been the culprits in enabling this, will shape their view.

Competition and relations with Beijing remain structural, systemic and value-driven where individual influence and affiliations matter less.

The sole superpower status held by Washington will continue to be strengthened and maintained, despite the missteps in properly weighing China’s threat.

Beijing’s no hold barred impetus in narrowing the existing power gap by repelling Western and external containment measures, while simultaneously enhancing its foothold in the Indo Pacific, are the new major fuel for Washington.

Beijing’s dominance in new critical sectors – including hypersonic defence technology and mastery of semiconductor supply chains – compelled Washington to scramble so it would not relinquish its grip on the existing global system: build a global American led system of democracy and rules based liberal norms; invite others to join the system; and finally to protect the order from challengers.

Beijing is seen to be the only power that is capable of threatening this order and will continue to pose the greatest threat.

It has wisely used the openings, opportunities and guarantees provided by the US in maintaining this global system, which allows peaceful access and progress of trade, economics and mobility of knowledge technology.

Washington guaranteeing the safety of world trade routes, and maintaining international norms and rules that allow progressive economic and development activities have been the predominant enabler in assuring China’s rise.

This stability creates profound stimulus for Beijing’s efforts to continue its ambition of state renewal and modernisation, capitalising on its vast resources, capital and engrained public support, and synergising with the support of external critical assurances provided by Washington.

The dramatic modernisation of China’s military; mastery of futuristic technology and world economics; dominance in innovation; and research capacities gives new sense of both awe and anxiety, but Washington remains confident in braving the threats.

Beijing’s deep economic grip, from debt trap to market dependency, further limits policy options, creating a climate of continuing reliance, and a China-led periphery of global trade and capital investment.

This signals a shift to force the global system to adhere to Chinese architecture, be they through the systematic narrowing of security and economic options for vulnerable players, to downright coercive measures.

Global players are left with a squeezing dilemma.

Washington will continue to take the moral high road with respect to rule of law and values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

A global stage free from threats, coercions and aggressive policies that could undermine the sanctity of diplomatic institutions and the security of states is a precedent for which the Biden administration will continue to strive.

Through a three-pronged emphasis on invest, align and compete, Washington will continue to strengthen, using competitiveness, innovation and the nobility of democratic values and freedoms.

The US will also spur greater alignment of support and renewed integration with allies to compete with Beijing in the defence of the systems and values that have been built for decades.

It will be a boost to the US’s confidence if it continues to target the right strategic policies and stages of internal development and transformation to compete with China and maintain global dominance at the same time.

While both Beijing and Washington are aware of the inevitable interdependence of interests in almost all key indicators, including the economy, and the critical co-operation needed in addressing global challenges like climate change, the influence gap and ensuring the status quo remains the bigger, ultimate purpose.

Washington continues to be confident in its existing advantages that have stood the test of time, well aware that the competition with Beijing will not be fought alone.

Armed with this solid backbone, Uncle Sam continues to target long-term success with widespread future potential and advantages still untapped in its competition with China.

Washington is also aware that the pattern, pace and outcome of this game are actually shaped and determined by the strength and goals of its own internal progress and future orientation, where barring any absolute failure and total collapse of the US’s institutions, values and internal systems, China’s pathway for its global superiority goal will be effectively halted. 

Until that actually materialises, the US will continue to build new strongholds and depths in securing its status and prestige, all the while ensuring China remains under Washington’s periphery of the existing global system, thwarting any attempt by Beijing to undermine this deeply entrenched American and Western led order.

The short game might be Beijing’s to lose for now, but the long game is certainly Washington’s to squander. – June 23, 2022.

* Collins Chong reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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