US-China cold war

During G7 summit, Biden unfold the US-backed B3W plan as a strategic competitor against China’s BRI.

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan June 20, 2021
The writer is Dean Social Sciences at Garrison University Lahore and tweets @Dr M Ali Ehsan

The 47th G-7 Summit was held in the UK from June 11 to 13, 2021. During this summit, President Joe Biden unfolded the US-backed ‘Build Back Better World’ or B3W plan as a strategic competitor against China’s BRI. Through B3W, the US together with its G7 partners is likely to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure for the low- and middle-income countries in the world. But first the answer to the question: Why is there a need to build back a better world? Was it not better before it was made worse? And who made it worse?

According to Hegel, history and therefore man’s quest for rationality and freedom has a definite and logical culminating point. It was through his writings that Francis Fukuyama stretched out the concept of ‘end of history’ and ‘the last man standing’ which eventually became the referral thesis of quest of capitalism over communism, the fall of Berlin Wall and the real beginning of the concept of liberal internationalism as a world order. But what did the US — the sole super power of the time practising the policy of unilateralism — do with this opportunity to change the world? It derailed the opportunity.

Washington was gripped by a mindset that called for going hard at the threat (enemy). A mindset that labored hard to make the world accept the virtues of executing preemptive strikes and fighting preemptive wars at great costs. This mindset followed a hawkish foreign policy and not only fought unnecessary wars to justify huge military expenditures but also considered use of military action as the most appropriate means to address the foreign policy challenges.

With the election of President Biden there was this hope that this mindset that gave us the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will change. But it seems that the cold war thinking US mindset that imagines that good only resides in the West and bad only in East has not changed and there is this renewed talk of a growing and pointless new cold war between the US and China.

In international relations, cold war is a reality but if the previous cold war gave us a divided Europe and a divided world, what do we expect from a recurrence of this new cold war between the US and China? The US and G-7 have clearly adopted an ideological and a confrontational posture against China — ideological because China was termed a threat to the democratic world, and confrontational because the G-7 countries declared that they will stand up to China’s “autocracy, human right abuses and economic rule breaking”.

The Chinese reply has been very simple and pertinent and in line with its declared policy of achieving ‘Chinese dream’ of ‘national rejuvenation’ which asks China not only to maintain its economic growth but also its international political standing. If China is a threat to the democratic world then why eight of China’s top 10 trading partners are democracies, and nearly 60 per cent of China’s exports go to the US and its allies. China has rightly responded to G-7 by saying that “the days when a small group of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone”. China speaks of how the world has changed and how our approach to this changing world must also change.

The world needs to shift its focus beyond the President Biden’s declared strategic notion of China being the greatest geopolitical threat of 21st century. Such a mindset would only drag the world back to the old-school contests of which the existence of cold war was a favorite part. Such a mindset is likely to change the nature and character of the international politics which is likely to be more dominated by geopolitical confrontations and contestations on the questions of territory, military power and division of the world into pro-China and anti-China coalitions.

What Asia needs is unification and not division. It needs a constructive US regional approach based on stable balance of power, cooperation and compromises. Portraying China as hostile and existential threat is undermining China’s ability as a world power to manage the regional order. As China’s assertiveness in the region grows together with its economy, what concerns China’s political leadership is its sovereignty and it would do anything to fight for and protect what it claims its own. China shares sea or land borders with 19 countries, 10 of whom have ongoing territorial disputes with China; but unlike the US which invaded Iraq and destabilised the entire Middle East region, China has resisted from employing military as an instrument of power to permanently resolve these disputes. China exhibits behaviour of strategic patience more than the US does. And that is the sign of a superpower that can be the part of an international system which can be driven on the promise of building better life for all.

The American handling of Iran is a classic example of its shortsighted foreign policy and its consequences for the entire region. It was in 1953 that President Eisenhower greenlighted Operation Ajax, a CIA-MI6 engineered coup that deposed Iran’s democratically elected PM and consolidated power in the hands of a monarch, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. What did Iran or Shah do? For next 27 years it extended contracts to US oil companies, bought expensive US weaponry, maintained friendly relations with Israel, but at what cost? Even during the Iran-Iraq war when Soviets supported Khomeini’s Iran and Gulf states supported Iraq, the US had it both ways, publicly backing Iraq and secretly selling weapons to Iran. When an opportunity came after 9/11 and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami offered to help the US with its response against neighbouring Afghanistan, its good gesture was ignored and instead Iran along with Syria and North Korea was declared ‘axis of evil’ in President Bush’s 2002 Sate of the Union speech.

Today the reality is that all three — Iran, Russia and China — are looking forward to undo the great humiliation that they have suffered in the past decades. Biden and G-7 can sell their vision to the world but the people of these countries will buy the vision that their leadership will sell to them; and the more confrontationist approach the US will adopt, the more quickly will the people of these countries buy their leadership’s narratives.

Today’s world is different from the world that President Obama addressed and to which he said, “We are ready to extend a hand to those willing to unclench their fists.” Twelve years later, Russia and China have emerged as rising and resurgent powers on the world scene and any attempt of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will most likely draw an Iranian response with the Strait of Hormuz blocked, a spike in the oil prices, and the world economy in a tailspin — all signs of growing possibility of a military confrontation which can easily take the form of another world war. Shouldn’t the US do everything in its power to avoid such a scenario?

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20h, 2021.

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