New Cold War? Rising Tensions between U.S. and China
July 19, 2012
China and the United States have never been close allies, but do differences between these two respective superpowers run the risk of erupting into a new-Cold War? Today, Chinese assertiveness on the world stage acts as a counter-balance to American overtures to several Asian-Pacific states: Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma.
American policy towards Taiwan and Japan has always made China uneasy, not to mention a military aliance with South Korea for over fifty years. An American policy shift away from Europe and the Middle East towards the Pacific has made China unneasy. After a decade or more of influencing China’s neighbors, the United States is seeking an opportunity to develop allies in the region, which will pave the way for renewed tensions.
Since President Barack Obama visited the East Asia Summit in Bali in November 2011, and later concluded a security arrangement with Australia, the United States has cemented its relationship with several Asian-Pacific states.
Elaborating on the US defence strategy for the region, Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta outlined the future American roadmap: “America is a turning point. After a decade of war, we are developing the new defence strategy. In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region (IOC) and South Asia. Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.”
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who met China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh on July 12, 2012, said without directly naming China, “None of us can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric and disagreements over resource exploitation,” she said. “We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen. There have been a variety of national measures taken that create friction and further complicate efforts to resolve disputes”, in likely reference to the recent stand-off between vessels from China and the Philippines, a traditional ally of the United States.
Increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea at this crucial juncture appears to be part of a strategy to counter mounting US naval hedging in the Asia-Pacific region.
However, according to US officials, Mr. Yang expressed “a careful indication” of China’s desire to participate in a dialogue to defuse any tension in the disputed South China Sea.
Yang said that both nations “should put in place a sound pattern of interaction in the Asia-Pacific that features win-win cooperation” and expressed his hope that the US “will respect the interests and concerns of China and other countries in the region.”
At the same time, underscoring a desire to downplay any strains with China, Clinton said that “the United States and China not only can, but will work together in Asia.”
Both China and the United States released statements pledging “to enhance and initiate collaborative efforts in the region” in areas ranging from climate change to possible energy exploration.
Although both the US and China appear to be trying to play down strains following the Phnom Penh talks, China’s irritation with Clinton’s comments made during her latest Asia visit, both on the South China Sea and on democracy and human rights, was apparent in two commentaries published in the Party-run People’s Daily.
Attacking Clinton for comments she made in Mongolia which called on Asian countries to embrace democracy, an editorial argued that Asian countries “can solve their own problems and can find a path different from the West to suit their national characteristics.”
Dreaming of a Next Hegemon
Mistrust between China and the US and competition for global dominance, even though China still has not come out of the enigma of “middle kingdom complex”, has US policymakers concerned. Further, China’s stratophoric economic rise and military modernization as of late, has the US seeking ways to undermine Chinese influence in the region.
A new world order appears to be emerging in which rising imperialistic assertiveness accompanied by the awesome military power of China is a concern not only for the US but also for Russia, Japan and America’s tradional allies, the Europeans.
These developments have significantly improved China’s economic and military clout as a dominant player and also a prominent decision maker.
The 21st century is widely acknowledged as Asia’s century with the geo-politics shifting away from the hitherto traditional Anglo-American centers of powers.