By Nadir Ali
Since the end of World War II in 1945, the United States has taken on the role of a steadfast protector of international law and a bulwark for the upholding of democratic principles all over the world. It has successfully halted the rise of regional and global dominators due to its dominant position.
Contrary to its soaring goals, the United States has paradoxically found itself at the center of both conventional and non-conventional wars on every continent, which is a lasting testament to both its skill at fighting wars and the scope of its influence. The United States’ combat experience is documented in the annals of history, including the epic theater of World War II, the merciless Korean War, the long quagmire of the Vietnam War, and the interventions in Panama and Grenada. Additionally, it has demonstrated its military prowess in the First Gulf War, Kosovo, and the protracted engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In stark contrast, China, a rising power, has sought to exert its influence through the clever use of its economic might. To this end, it has employed a variety of strategies, from charm offensives to the expansive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has made a concerted effort to persuade American allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region to support its interests, but so far with little success. It lacks international defense agreements and overseas logistic bases stocked with military supplies, which limits its ability to pursue ambitious global goals. China finds it difficult to match the unique set of competitive advantages of the United States, most notably its extensive network of partnerships and alliances. The fact that China is the largest trading partner for more than 120 countries, however, makes it impossible to ignore its rise in the global economy. China is making enormous investments to solidify its position because it understands the necessity of technological independence and sees this as a necessary step for both economic growth and national security.
But the deep-seated, enduring, and intensifying strategic rivalry between the US and China persists. It has become clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that American and Chinese interests will frequently conflict, particularly when it comes to issues affecting the security environment of the Indo-Pacific region. These conflicts between the two superpowers present the rest of the world with significant problems that go beyond their actions and force them to consider their omissions. Although ideological, political, and security tensions have existed between the US and China throughout history, they did, however, prioritize economic integration during the 1990s as a result of their extensive participation in the exchange of goods, capital, human resources, and technology, which reduced their political and security concerns for one another. In essence, they allowed economic factors to influence them, allowing them to control their futures.
Similarly, goodwill had nothing to do with previous crises in which the United States and China worked together. Beijing and Washington coordinated only for their own benefit, without romantic feelings, strong emotional bonds, or even the slightest hint of a desire to work together to advance the welfare of the world’s people. The United States continues to be an admired partner for some regional governments and it has no desire to see China take over the region. Since 2017, the Trump and Biden administrations have both tried to use their clout in the region to persuade allies to cut ties with the PRC and unite against China. In particular, Biden has stepped up American diplomatic efforts in the area, renewing commitments to economic and security cooperation. However, a more cautious and subdued approach would best serve the interests of the United States if it wanted to increase its influence and stature in Asia.
The United States must first give China some room to fumble. Regardless of how much money China has invested in Asia, its authoritarian political ethos makes it vulnerable to long-term deteriorations in its regional relations. Friendships in the Communist bloc were less stable and long-lasting than those in the free world during the Cold War. China currently has weak soft power to some extent and its cultural diplomacy frequently fails, leaving it with few resources to rely on when economic agreements fail. Washington may be tempted to use China’s shortcomings for political gain, but it would be wiser to respect independence when identifying China’s flaws. A certain degree of domestic political stability is necessary to steer a steady strategic course in both domestic and international affairs, though.
In contrast to institutionalized political successions in democracies, which frequently result in policy changes, successions in autocracies are more likely to result in conflict and the fall of the regime. In either scenario, there would still be some military, geopolitical, economic, technological, and diplomatic competition; however, relations between the United States and China would not necessarily improve. Therefore, Beijing would temper the severity of its challenge, especially in situations where the United States’ vital interests are at stake, such as Taiwan and the alliance system in East Asia. The goal would be a more stable relationship marked by decreased conflict risks, the preservation of important U.S. strategic interests, and a gradual expansion of potential cooperation areas, whether explicitly stated through diplomatic resolution or implicitly reached.