Will the US realise the folly of its China containment policy before it’s too late?

  • A world in chaos as a result of Ukraine war and the pandemic does not need another crisis, which the US threatens to create by pushing its China agenda in Asia
  • Officials in Washington need to shake off their outmoded Cold War mindset in which China is seen as a ‘systemic rival’ – or risk a global catastrophe

Amid the catastrophic fallout from the war in Ukraine and a global food and energy supply crunch, the result of both pandemic and war, another large-scale crisis appears to be unfolding – in Asia, driven by the US. With its focus on containing China, Washington has been pushing its regional policies hard recently as part of its grand Indo-Pacific strategy.

From the Asean-US special summit in Washington last month and President Joe Biden’s provocative statements regarding US policy on Taiwan, to the formation of a fundamentally flawed Indo-Pacific economic alliance, the United States appears to be strengthening its long-standing geostrategic endeavours against China. This risks turning a crisis into another major conflagration.

While other nations are seeking a peaceful settlement to the Ukraine war, why is the US seemingly bent on fanning the flames of another conflict? Analysts have observed that Biden’s recent moves may be a result of his new-found confidence following the unprecedented Western response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. And it seems Biden has been tempted to exploit that confidence against China and seek to push home the advantage.

But with such a containment policy, devoid of any effort to engage Beijing, the risk is that a US-China strategic crisis could move beyond what are acceptable and controllable limits, with immeasurable costs for both parties, and the world as a whole.

The Biden administration has to remember that China is not Russia. And, given the sheer size of China’s economy, population and wholesale integration into the global economic system, any conflict that even came close to level of the Russia-Ukraine war could lead to a global catastrophe.

Sino-US strategic tensions have been growing for years. Today, there are two paths available to Beijing and Washington.

The first is for China and the US to dial back the tensions substantially and agree to work together to reshape the global order to everyone’s advantage, and avoid humiliating their adversaries.

In the second scenario, the tensions grow, leading to a deeper confrontation, which results in serious conflict and potentially an all-out war. Of course, no one wants to see such an outcome, but the first scenario requires a substantial strategic recalibration on the part of the US.

First, officials in Washington have to shake off their outmoded Cold War mindset in which China is perceived as the US’ “systemic rival”. They also need to realise that a system of state governance is not created overnight, and one system cannot simply replace another that has evolved with its own unique set of features.

China has its own system of “administrative-oriented accountability”, focusing on delivering substantive results to a majority of the population. This uniquely Chinese system of governance is, acceptably, different from the Western one, and has undoubtedly delivered benefits to the Chinese people and the world as a whole.

Moreover, it is widely recognised that China, in its global outreach, has never shown any desire for its partners, or even adversaries, to follow in its footsteps, something that cannot be said of the West, particularly the US. So, America’s perceived threat from China to its own systems is fundamentally flawed.

At best, China seeks to reshape the so-called rules-based international order – one that is hegemonic in nature and systemically biased in the West’s favour.

Given its remarkable economic advancements over the past few decades and the prospect of greater achievements to come, China can truly to classed as a rising superpower. So, the US is unwise to embark on a policy of strategic containment, based solely on the outdated geopolitical concept that rising powers must be contained.

China is now the world’s second-largest economy, integrated both regionally and globally. Thus, US containments efforts do not bode well for anyone.

Both the US and China are paying a heavy price for Washington’s reckless efforts to lessen Beijing’s global and regional influence – and, to that end, weaponising technology, finance, trade, and other areas where cooperation once occurred. Other nations are suffering too, as they are increasingly caught in the downward spiral of geopolitical competition.

Asian countries are also increasingly being forced to divert resources to their defence budgets, given the constant militaristic drumbeats, away from improving their citizens’ well-being as they struggle amid the pandemic-driven economic slump and ongoing climate crisis.

The war in Ukraine has shown the danger of failing to give diplomacy and statesmanship a chance to bridge the gap between nations and pave a path to peace. Rather, we have seen geopolitical tensions erupt, with devastating consequences.

Both China and the US play an enormous part in maintaining global peace and prosperity. To that end, both urgently need to work towards political accommodation. The question is, will the US understand this before it’s too late?

Author: Hossain Delwar is a columnist and strategic analyst on international issues based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, SCMP

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