China is currently the country with the most trading partners in the world, China even managed to beat America. However, this has not been able to change China’s position as the world’s economic leader by shifting America’s position. This makes relations between the two countries even more complicated.
China is America’s third largest trading partner with a percentage of 13.9% in 2020. This is the result of a very long process that began in 1971 after President Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China in 25 years after China became a country. Communist. Relations between the two countries grew closer after China joined the WTO in 2001. However, American concerns began to grow after China tried to fight over the Senkaku Islands from Japan and peaked in 2018 through a trade war initiated by Trump.
The United States is still a world leader with the strength of its three main pillars, namely politics, economy and military. America is the country with the largest economy by controlling 24.1% of the world’s economy, in the military sector America is also still in the top position with ownership of military bases, military budgets and the largest defense equipment in the world. And in the political sector, the value of democracy which is upheld by America still persists. However, the rise of China through economic and military improvements is a real threat to America.
This first threat comes from China’s trade practices. Since 2018 America and China have officially carried out a trade war by increasing tariffs on all goods entering each other’s countries. This war was initiated by Trump who thinks China has been committing fraud such as theft of wealth. intellectual property and unfair subsidies.
If America imposes tougher economic sanctions on China like they did for Russia over its annexation of Crimea, America will be hurt. America is currently in the process of post-pandemic economic recovery, increasing tension on China will only worsen the situation considering that China is America’s 3rd largest economic partner. America in its development has imposed economic sanctions in the form of increasing tariffs of 25% for all Chinese goods that enter America. It further specifically prohibits the use of products from Huawei, a company linked to the Chinese military as well as those involved in the torture of Uighur Muslims. America uses the narrative that this is the consequence of violating the existing legal order. And this is a reminder that America is the guardian of world peace. However, this effort seemed too imposing and detrimental to America.
America must be aware that China’s position is so strong, if there is not such a serious change in the international order, China will become the largest economy in 10-15 years. This is very worrying because with such a large economic growth, China’s investment in other countries will increase and dependence is unavoidable and China will certainly spend a larger budget on its military. But on the one hand giving China what it wants is desperation.
America must admit and realize that its main mistake was to let China into the WTO. America has always considered that embracing China into the WTO is the right decision to bring the Chinese government and people to the path of democracy. However, it turns out that the Chinese government is smarter than America. They maintain their authoritarian system while increasing access to large markets. And the failure of Obama’s policy through a “pivot to Asia” which in the end only made China more aggressive in the South China Sea.
The next threat comes from the South China Sea, the South China Sea area holds enormous natural resources in the form of natural gas reserves of 160 trillion cubic oil, 12 billion barrels and 12% of the world’s fish needs. Even 21% of international trade must pass through the South China Sea area. Therefore control over the South China Sea is a must. China currently has control of the South China Sea, this is evidenced by the ownership of the largest military base in the Paracels and Spratlys islands. It will support China’s military operations involving the navy and air. Meanwhile, America only has support from the nearest military base in the Philippines, which is approximately 1000 miles away.
Freedom of Navigation initiated by America in fact can only provide benefits to America, America can increase its military activities in the South China Sea, however, their allies such as Malaysia and the Philippines are still under real threat from China. If America fails to secure the South China Sea, this will make each country’s interpretation of the law of the sea, especially big countries, wilder. And this is a crushing defeat for America for not being able to protect its allies. In the end, America needs to maintain its position as the holder of the International order, because if China succeeds in taking over this position, the rules in the international world will shift.
And lastly, there is a threat to democracy through the strengthening of authoritarian China. China is directly actively campaigning for its authoritarian values through democratic policies by limiting freedom of opinion and committing gross human rights violations against Uighur Muslims. Former President John F Kennedy on the day of his coronation as president said that “As Americans we will pay whatever price it takes to protect freedom”. Of course, it is very important for America to continue to carry out this mandate, considering that freedom is an identity and interest for America.
However, China is very strong in controlling the global narrative, in the case of Uighur Muslims, China is trying to build a narrative that they are only carrying out training, not torture, and has succeeded in pressuring Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia to not speak much. This is a very difficult challenge for America, if America does not improve itself by increasing cooperation in the form of increasing partners and the number of trades and embracing its alliances by establishing a new security axis then in the end it is only a matter of time for China to lead the world.
*Gufron Gozali is a junior research assistant from the Islamic University of Indonesia