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The competition between the United States and China - a new kind of Cold War

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. had been considered the world's unique superpower. However, that did not last long as America’s position was challenged by China - a major opponent. China's strong rise has led the U.S. to implement many measures of containment. Therefore, many strategists believe that the U.S. and China could enter a new Cold War.

The rise of China

In order to realize the "Chinese dream," China has planned many ambitious strategies that affect the region and the globe. The highlight is the "Belt and Road" Initiative (BRI) initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to help Beijing magnify its power, increase its influence on other countries, and fulfil its goal of becoming the world’s number one superpower. This is considered a "Century Project," aimed at recreating the famous "Silk Road" formed in the 2nd century BC, stretching from Fuzhou, Hangzhou, and Beijing (China) to Mongolia, India, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Greece and even Japan. Through this initiative, China hopes to seek resources strong enough to face challenges in the trend of globalization, where political and economic power could be guaranteed by geographical scope and space. Therefore, China intends to involve its partners in the Eurasian landmass in the BRI to legitimize its position as a central agent and will impose a new geo-political order.

Militarily, China has made adjustments in its defence strategy to build the most powerful army in the world. In recent years, the country has accelerated the modernization of its army, with a focus placed on streamlining the organizational structure, rearranging the forces, and applying scientific and technological advances to the production of weapons and technical equipment. So far, China's military power has been improved dramatically. To increase strategic deterrence, gain control in the air and at sea and attack long-range targets, China is constantly developing ballistic missiles with new versions that could carry nuclear warheads, while manufacturing and putting J-20 stealth aircraft into service, which are likened to the US F-22 and F-35 by strategic analysts. It has also put aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong into operation. Currently, China is embarking on the application of advanced technology to developing hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and unmanned systems. Along with the military modernization, China has also redefined a number of combative concepts and tasks of its Military’s services and corps. Accordingly, the Chinese Navy will shift its focus from offshore defence to open sea protection and enhance its manoeuvrability and joint combat capacity at sea. The Air Force will shift its focus from territorial air defence to both offensive and defence. The Ground Force will shift its operations from regional defence to inter-regional and global manoeuvre and improve its inter-field combat capability.

It is considered in many ways that China is seeking control of regional security and order in place of the US. Typically, Beijing has been trying to adjust its defence and security policies since the end of the last century, introduce the concept of regional and global order in line with its ambition and rise, establish an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and militarize islands and artificial islands in the South China Sea regardless of international law. From these issues, researchers believe that Beijing is establishing a new regional security order with its own characteristics and extending its influence more considerably compared with the US. Therefore, regional powers and the United States have no choice but to contain Beijing's activities, in order to minimize the impact on their own interests and their allies’.

US policies to contain China

China's rise in the economic, political, military, and diplomatic fields has really alarmed and forced the U.S. to keep a wary eye on Beijing’s moves. To prevent and contain the influence and rise of Beijing, US President George W. Bush implemented a "pivot" strategy to Asia - Pacific region and Indian Ocean and it continues to be carried out by Donald Trump with new methods. Militarily, the U.S. currently has 3 strategic deterrent lines located in the Pacific Ocean. The first is military bases and infrastructure in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan, close to Chinese territory. Recently, Australian officials have said that the government is building another versatile deep-water port in Glyde Point, roughly 40 kilometres away from the Port Darwin in the Northern Territory to facilitate the US Marine Corps’ operations in the Indo - Pacific region. All of these countries would be linked as a circle for preventing China from becoming a sea power. The second is located in Guam and Hawaii. The third is situated in California and Alaska. According to political commentators around the globe, China is considered by the US political circle to be the greatest risk to the benefits of Washington in the long term; therefore, it is necessary for America to control and get access to the international waters where the Chinese Navy is present. However, the U.S. does not do this alone. Instead, it will work with its allies, namely Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan which rely heavily on it and will support any initiative against China. In South Asia, although China - India relations are not so bad, there has been a territorial dispute between the two sides recently, which is also the reason why India would participate in containing China. The establishment of an anti-China coalition, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and some Southeast Asian countries, may push China into a very difficult situation.

In addition to setting up a military siege, Washington has also implemented a number of policies to hit Beijing's "Achilles heel," such as the building of "barriers" against some Chinese companies that are expanding operations in the USA. The Bureau of Industry and Security of the United States Department of Commerce has added more than 140 Chinese enterprises to the "Entity List" (for constricting export), including many hi-tech enterprises, to undermine China's interests, under the pretext of "national security and diplomatic interests," such as Huawei Group, Research Institute 2 under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, Research Institutes 13, 14, 35, and 38 under the China Aerospace Machinery and Electronics Corporation, China National Technical Import & Export Corporation, China Huateng Industrial Co., Ltd, and ZTE Corporation. In particular, on December 20, 2019, the US President signed into law the National Defence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which includes many issues related to China.

Meanwhile, the trade war initiated by the U.S. in March 2018 is expected to deal a fatal blow to the Chinese economy which is tottering under Beijing’s unsustainable development policy. The culmination of this war was the US declaration of 25 percent tariffs on US$ 200 billion of Chinese imports. Beijing clearly does not want a trade war with Washington as bilateral trade turnover is in its favour and it is accumulating technological advances from the U.S. in the trading process. The trade war with the U.S will make difficulties for Chinese businesses because the U.S. is the largest trading partner, accounting for 18.4% of this country's export turnover. Although China has taken retaliatory actions against the United States, analysts have said that the trade war could only reduce the growth of America’s gross domestic product by nearly 1% in the short term compared to 5% of China’s.

The risk of a New Cold War

Similar to the Cold War that broke out in the last century, now the U.S. is facing a crisis of confidence amid the rise of China and it does not accept its position as a world superpower is under threat. According to researchers, the risk of a new Cold War is imminent; however, its form and scale will be different from the previous one. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was a fierce ideological competition between capitalism and socialism, a nuclear arms race for gaining dominance in strategic weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarines, and a separation between the East and the West for which the "Berlin Wall" was a symbol. If a new Cold War between the U.S. and China happens, it will be larger and more comprehensive and in the direction of modernity, with a focus placed on an all-out race for technology. Specifically, there will be a competition between new technological standards and the use of the internet system. As the U.S. and China technological war breaks out and spreads, it is likely that the world will be divided by Chinese and American internet users, by Harmony OS of Huawei or Google's Android and Apple's IOS, and by the use of 5G devices from Huawei or Nokia and Ericsson. Regarding the competitive area, the confrontation will not be limited in the air, at sea or on the ground only; it will also extend in the real and virtual space. Therefore, cybersecurity plays a particularly important role in protecting sovereignty and development space. Currently, the U.S. and the West put up together an invisible and tangible "technological wall" to protect their secrets and prevent China from accessing them. The most obvious move is that the U.S. minimizes Chinese students and engineers’ chances of studying and working in "sensitive" technological fields, such as aerospace, automation, and artificial intelligence.

Prior to the current US-China competition, the interaction and interplay of interests between the two sides were so great that they seemed inseparable from each other. Economically and commercially, the U.S. and China are bound together by their interests valued at over US$ 2,000 billion. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are studying throughout the U.S., while tens of millions of American tourists visit China every year and vice versa. In particular, the U.S. and China have reached the phase-one trade agreement recently. Accordingly, the U.S. will suspend its tariffs imposed on US$ 160 billion of Chinese goods and reduce some existing tariffs. In return, China agrees to buy US$ 50 billion worth of American farm produce in the year 2020. Therefore, if a Cold War between the U.S. and China happened, the competition between the two powers would form a different rival space and take place in all political, military, and socio-economic areas. Certainly, its consequences would be very serious and it would have a direct impact on the development strategies of many countries in the world. Therefore, researching and accurately forecasting the world situation, especially the competition among powers, to formulate development strategies and lessen negative impacts are necessary for every country.

Lam Phuong - Huu An

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