Can US-China Political Tension Lead To War? – OpEd



John Pomfret and Matt Pottinger’s recent article (“Xi Jinping Says He Is Preparing China for War”) has drawn the attention of both the developing and developed world as Xi Jinping’s utterances have to be taken seriously, inexperienced though he is in dealing with the superpower status that China has gained.

When the victorious countries’ leaders — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin — were busy in dividing the defeated Germany at the Yalta Conference (February 4-11 1945) Xi-Jining was not even born. Though one’s birthday is not important in the context of changes that have taken place in the world since the Yalta Conference and China of today it is important to know how Nixon, Mao-Tse Tung, Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and their successors dealt with keeping nuclear weapons in check thus avoiding the extinction of humanity. 


Unfortunately targeting China as the prime enemy both by Donald Trump and Joe Biden has not improved the situation. Though the US reportedly is working backchannel diplomacy so that China does not make the mistake that centuries back Sparta and Greece had committed causing the death and destruction of thousands of lives.

Professor Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School popularized the phrase “Thucydides’ trap,” to explain the likelihood of conflict between a rising power and a currently dominant one. This is based on the famous quote from Thucydides: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” This usage has even spread to Chinese President Xi Jinping who said, “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers … Our aim is to foster a new model of major country relations.”

There exists the overwhelming demand of the world population that the Sino-Russian friendship should not be turned into a race to demonstrate the superiority of Communism versus Democracy disregarding the lessons taught by, in the case of China, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao.  Jiang Zemin served as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002, as chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 2004, and as president of China from 1993 to 2003. Jiang was the paramount leader of China from 1989 to 2002. He was the core leader of the third generation of Chinese leadership, one of four core leaders alongside Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Xi Jinping. In the case of Russia, complications have arisen in world politics due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 


However much the Western propaganda may blame Vladimir Putin for the invasion it would be unwise to overlook his repeated requests to the Western bloc that Ukraine should not join either NATO or any alliance within the Russian orbit. But the Americans in particular disregarded the Russian demands and continue to pour in military hardware to President Zelensky of Ukraine.

According to a press release of the United Nations of October 2022 With 143 Votes in Favor, 5 Against, the General Assembly Adopted a Resolution Condemning the Russian Federation’s Annexation of Four Eastern Ukraine Regions.  Several delegations, such as Brazil and India, expressed worries that their concerns and suggestions were not included in the draft text, with Brazil’s representative underscoring that his delegation’s calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities were left out. India joined several other speakers in expressing deep worry that the people of the global South were feeling pain from a food, fuel, and fertilizer shortage, and sky-high price increases, as a result of the war. Some delegates stressed the need to promote dialogue and diplomacy so that peace can prevail. 


They expressed concern that not enough was being done to bring parties to peace talks. The representative of India expressed deep concern for the conflict in Ukraine and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.  “The global order we all subscribe to” is based on the territorial integrity of all States,” India’s representative said. India stands ready to support all efforts aimed at de-escalation. It is unfortunate that as the war unfolds, the entire global South continues to suffer food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages, as well as price hikes.  India claims there were other pressing issues at play, some of which had not been addressed in the text. As such, India’s delegation abstained from the vote for that reason, adding that India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. 

The representative of Bangladesh said his country voted in favor of the resolution, reaffirming its belief that respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and peaceful settlement of all disputes must be universally complied with, without any exception.  He underscored the need for the international community to take similar stands against the annexation of Palestinian and other Arab lands by Israel. Adding those antagonisms like war, economic sanctions, and countersanctions can bring no good to any nation, he encouraged dialogue and mediation to solve crises and disputes, urging parties to refrain from action that may further endanger peace and security. 


Again, in February 2023 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the war and demanding that Russia leave Ukrainian territory. The nonbinding resolution advocated for peace, reaffirms support to Ukraine’s sovereignty, and highlighted the need for accountability for war crimes. 

China, India, and South Africa were among the 32 countries that abstained from voting on the resolution. China abstained from voting for the third time since the invasion over one year ago and has sought to position itself as neutral in the dispute. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called for an end to sanctions against Russia and an eventual cease-fire, saying it respects the sovereignty of all nations. China feels that “Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out to resolve the Ukraine crisis,”. The Chinese proposal aims to rebuff Western concerns that the country might soon provide direct support to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. 


The Biden administration warned China of the consequences if it were to provide direct support to Russia’s war effort. In an interview with Joseph Nye Jr. (June 6 2023) he explains how to minimize the political risks of new spending packages in the US and Europe. First, China lacks an open civil society – a key source of attractiveness – owing to the CPC’s insistence on maintaining tight control over people’s lives and opportunities for independent voluntary association. Second, China maintains – and stokes – tensions and conflicts with its neighbors, often over territorial issues. A Confucius Institute in New Delhi can do nothing to boost China’s attractiveness if Chinese troops are killing Indian soldiers on their disputed Himalayan border. 

When asked what could spark a conflict with China, Joseph Nye Jr said that the deep causes of a potential war over Taiwan lie in the Chinese Civil War (1927-49). Communist forces defeated the Kuomintang-led Nationalist government on the mainland but did not capture Taiwan, which the CPC regards as a renegade province.

US President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong settled on the “One China” formula to defer the resolution of the conflict. To uphold this status quo, the US has attempted not only to deter China from using force, but also to deter Taiwan from provoking China by issuing a formal declaration of independence. The intermediate causes are the increase of Chinese military strength in the region and the growing sense of national identity among the population in Taiwan. The immediate cause – the spark that ignites the Taiwan tinderbox – could be some unexpected event that spurs China to act, such as a blockade in which a Chinese ship is sunk. Given the fact that the world at large does not have any conflagration on Taiwan or Ukraine added to the reports of backchannel communications between the US and China a Third World War is a remote possibility. 

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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