By Nijat İsmayilov
The coronavirus pandemic, which was out broken in China’s Wuhan province and is now spreading almost all over the world, could cause serious changes in international relations and the world order. However, the balance of power between the major powers was disturbed even before the pandemic. It was China’s economic and military rise that disrupted the new world order based on US global leadership and the balance of power in favor of the West formed after the collapse of the USSR. The US-China “cold rivalry” was also launched to maintain this balance in favor of the United States and restore the status quo in the world order.
China is already a threat to US “national interests” and “security.”
Many American strategists, including Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, predicted years ago that China would eventually become a rival to the United States in world leadership. However, the Obama administration ignored these predictions, launched the Greater Middle East Plan, and with the onset of the Arab Spring, turned all its efforts and attention to the Middle East. During this period, China’s economic and military growth reached its peak. As a result, Chinese economic indication reached close to the US when Donald Trump came to power.
Donald Trump who views China as the biggest threat to the US’s national interests set the ground of US-China ‘cold rivalry”. The detail that distinguishes Cold Rivalry from the Cold War is that the parties use non-military methods in the struggle and aim to weaken rather than destroy their rivals.
American strategists, including Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, predicted years ago that China would eventually become a rival to the United States. Chinese navy with 300 ships has surpassed the US Navy which has 287 ships, making it the world’s largest navy.
Nevertheless, there is a high risk that the US-China cold rivalry will escalate into a cold war on issues such as Taiwan, the East China Sea, and the coronavirus crisis. However, the United States is not afraid to go to war with its rivals. So why is the United States willing to wage a cold war with China? To answer this question, I would like to bring a statistic:
According to official data released before the coronavirus, the Chinese navy with 300 ships has surpassed the US Navy which has 287 ships, making it the world’s largest navy.
At present, the Chinese navy has 23 destroyers, 59 frigates, 37 corvettes, and 76 submarines. Chinese submarines have the capacity to carry long-range nuclear missiles. Today, the Chinese navy is larger than the combined naval forces of Spain, Britain, and Germany, which have dominated the oceans for the past four centuries
China’s transformation into the world’s largest naval power is, of course, upsetting the balance of power in the Pacific between the United States and Asia. After the Pearl Harbor attack and the US involvement in World War II, the largest naval force in the region belonged to the Americans.
China, which has been active regionally and globally since the 1980s, now surpasses the United States in every area in the region. I would like to note that on the eve of the First World War, Great Britain could reconcile with Germany. Britain’s only demand from the Germans was to weaken its naval power relative to that of Britain. Because Britain felt safe when it ruled the seas. Today, the United States may turn a blind eye to China’s stronger economy, but China’s strength in the Pacific is a national security issue for Washington.
The United States intends to limit China’s power in the region with a trio of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. China, meanwhile, wants to break that block by backing North Korea and expanding its sphere of influence to the North Pacific by claiming 90 percent of the South China Sea. China’s target and growing naval power threaten not only US national interests but also its security.
US President Barack Obama sought geopolitical diplomacy with enhancing relations between the Americas and the Pacific by the “Trans-Pacific” project in order to stem China’s attempts of expansion. In contrary to Obama, Trump, using harsh diplomatic tactics, shelved Obama’s project and launched trade wars in the region against China.
The fierce rivalry is going on not only among coastline states like China, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan but also China and the US in the East China Sea. It should be noted that the United States has deployed a large part of its naval power of the Pacific Ocean to this area in 2019 due to the high risk of military intervention. If the coronavirus were not on the world’s agenda today, we would most likely see a confrontation between China and the United States in the North Pacific. But coincidentally, the coronavirus pandemic emerged in China, and now the epicenter of the virus is the United States and Europe. But after the coronavirus, who will change the balance of power in favor of itself, the United States or China?
Trade wars and the coronavirus hit the Chinese economy hard
Prior to the coronavirus, the United States used all its efforts to prevent China from becoming stronger. Washington has repeatedly attacked its rival through the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Huawei, and in trade wars. In particular, the “trade wars” slowed China’s growth. The Chinese economy grew by 7.9% in 2012, 7.8% in 2013, 7.3% in 2014, 6.9% in 2015, 6.7% in 2016, and 6.8% in 2017. It achieved economic growth of 6.6% in 2018 and 6.1% in 2019. The slowdown in the growth index in 2019 is the lowest in China for the last 29 years, due to trade wars.
The coronavirus hit the Chinese economy even harder. The World Bank has released a report on China’s economic performance during the coronavirus. According to the report, China’s projected economic growth of 6.1% in 2019 was reduced to 2.3% due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
According to the London-based Capital Economics, the damage to China over the past three months is about $280 billion. Experts say the international economic recession over the coronavirus will continue. This is the beginning of new problems for China, the world’s largest producer. Although the drop in oil prices in recent weeks has led China to save $ 12 billion, this is not enough for the Beijing economy.
The most serious problem for China during the coronavirus era is the difficulty in attracting investment to the country. Thus, it was a huge amount of investments stood behind China’s economic. The pandemic could stem the flow of investment to China. Speaking at the time of the pandemic in China, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbor Ross commented on the impact of the coronavirus on the Chinese economy:
“The work (investment) will return to the United States, to North America.” Ross’s statement can be interpreted as follows: “Coronavirus will return the funds of US companies investing in China to the country.”
Despite all these negative developments, China is still the world’s largest producer and supplier of goods. China is the second-largest economy after the United States with $15 trillion GDP. Note that, unlike the United States and Europe, China woke up faster than the coronavirus shock. At present, the quarantine in this country is almost over and the production process is underway.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has become a new phase of the US-China cold rivalry. The United States has accused China of hiding the virus from the world and infecting the world with the pandemic. Trump even called the coronavirus a “Chinese virus”. China has accused the United States of spreading the virus, saying it was infected by US troops who arrived in Wuhan in 2019. Thus, this time a propaganda war broke out between the parties. In this propaganda war, the United States is trying to prevent investment in China by presenting it as a source of the virus. The United States also aims to undermine China’s international image by blaming China for the pandemic.
China is responding in two ways to this US-led propaganda war. By accusing the United States and humanitarian diplomacy …
China’s humanitarian diplomacy
After World War II, the United States initiated the Marshall Plan, an economic aid program for its allies to counter the Soviet threat and the aftermath of the war. Thanks to this plan, America was able to revive the European economy and keep its allies in its sphere of influence. “Today, Europe and the world need new Marshall Plans to overcome the economic and social crisis created by the pandemics,” said the President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. However, the United States does not currently have the capacity to implement this plan. Thus, the marshal plan, which is currently needed by the world, includes both medical, humanitarian and economic assistance. The state that will implement this plan can only be a state that has won the war on coronavirus. According to official statements, this country is China. In China, the country where the virus was firstly reported, about 82,249 people have been infected, 77,738 have been recovered and 3,341 have died.
Declaring victory over the coronavirus, China has embarked on its humanitarian diplomacy to reverse the US campaign against it.
As part of this diplomacy, first aid to Italy came from Beijing. China has initially sent a medical team of nine specialists and a large amount of medical supplies to Italy, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe. China, which sent 500,000 tons of medical aid to Spain, 5 million to Belgium, one million to Serbia and the Czech Republic, and about 60 tons to Hungary and Croatia, has become a “distant hero” of countries that have received no aid from the European Union. In recent days, the leaders of Hungary and Serbia have sent special messages of thanks to China. President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said China would donate 2 million medical masks, 200,000 N95 masks and 50,000 tests to the European Union, and thanked Beijing for the assistance.
As part of its humanitarian diplomacy strategy, China has sent tests, respirators and protective clothing to a total of 82 countries.
China’s diplomacy serves as a new humanitarian “Marshal Plan” for a world at war with the coronavirus. The ultimate goal of China’s humanitarian diplomacy is to maintain its international image and challenge the United States as a world leader.
As noted, the coronavirus has intensified the ongoing cold rivalry between China and the United States. These two global powers will most likely shape the world order in the post-corona era. The state of the world will depend on the outcome of the rivalry. Despite the current economic difficulties, China has won the sympathy of the international community with its skillful diplomacy. The United States “loses points” not only in the world but also on its continent during such a pandemic.
Writer of this article Nijat İsmayilov is a political expert and journalist from Baku. The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.