The US-China chicken game

| | in Oped

Keeping in view the vortex of geo-economics and the shadows of the 2008 global recession and related aftershocks, the Chinese compulsion to tolerate an America-ordained security system and US alliance commitments to regional states hold aloft the banner of peace

The United States of America and People’s Republic of China must be accepted as inseparable dualisms and an eventual cesspool. The idiom of confrontationist cooperation runs true for both the global players in the present day realm of the international system. China contorts the stable of nations in the Far East, Latin America, Africa and other conjoined regions of the world polity. In the present day, war of words between Washington and Pyongyang might come home to roost which might be an unfortunate scenario for the larger international system.

In the US-North Korea fracas, China has a peculiarly powerful and important role to play to mitigate the after-effects of loud and rickety saber-rattling. China has been serving as a key mediator along with the group of six nations, including the European Union, to rein in the nuclear programme of North Korea. The Chinese remain wary with the remembrance that Kim Il dispatched two squadrons of aircraft to fight over Vietnamese airspace and North Korean artillery was utilised by Hanoi. Can the hatchet be buried? It has been buried in a way as elites in the North Korean state make do with Chinese and South Korean durables despite the entire hullaballoo and the attendant power and economic equations.

The US can do well to prop China into inserting more political and diplomatic sense into the North Korean mind exemplified by Kim-Jong-Un, the big man in North Korea, who minces no words akin to President Trump. Thus, in the China-US fulcrum of contested spaces, both the nations have been co-existing in the self same “spaces” without the warts of an overt competition. Still, North Korea does not trust the Han as much as they used to do earlier. It’s a kind of war of the dragons. The legacy of the Sino-Vietnamese War continues to cast its dreary shadow upon the bilateral between Beijing and Pyonyang. The North Koreans were very politically correct during the Cold War days, where in they stayed clear of the Sino-Soviet confrontation, but they could never emerge out of the psychological quagmire that when Vietnam was insecure, the same could run true for even their national space.

It was way back in the 40’s that Ho-Chi-Minh contacted US President Truman in order to expel the French and move on towards Vietnamese freedom and independence, where the Chinese had a role to play. In a way, the Chinese played spoilsport for the Americans in the Yalu river clashes along the 38th parallel in the Korean Peninsula and the first rites of the conflict were sure-footedly carried on in the heydays of the Cold War in the aftermath of World War II. India helped the Chinese enter the heady portals of the United Nations, while the US attempted to get the better out their strategy of containment by entering into an innovative détente organised between Mao Tse Tung and President Nixon in the early seventies while the American Presidency was in a shaky mould in the light of the talk about Pentagon Papers and the falling arm of the American military might in Vietnam. The seventies witnessed a closing in ranks between Washington and Beijing with the dexterous ease and efficiency of “Ping Pong Diplomacy” which carried on the battle of the Cold War into the sidelined Soviet portals. Thus, the entry of China into the mainstream of the World politics’ rigmarole was heralded by the Indians and the Americans. Thus, China was made part of “all thick and thin” by their rivals now, in the form of the US.

It can be safely contended that despite the palaver about China bettering Washington in the race to the anointed and much sought-after seat of being the sole superpower, it is rather unlikely in the near and longer runs keeping in view the subterranean girth of the US and the multipolar nature of the larger international system. It can be ascertained and forecasted that a US-China trade war is brewing as the trade deficit amounting to a trade surplus in the favour of China amounted to a quantum of 25 billion dollars in the months of July-August, 2017. This amounts to a gargantuan quantum and does not augur well for the business equations of the US. Have we said and heard enough about the fact that star spangled buntings and American Presidential confetti are being imported from China and even the Star spangled banners, which the American crowds wave at their tempestuous Trumps and heady Hillaries, are of Han origin.

A CNBC report contends, “China is the focus of trade deficit concerns because it is the US’ largest trading partner and accounts for around half of the US trade deficit. However, the administration may be limited in what it can do to China, according to a report by risk consultants Control Risks. Trump’s options for inflicting severe and widespread economic pain on China are inhibited by legal, regulatory and legislative practicalities, including U.S. commitments under the World Trade Organization.” Thus, the vitriol which was effervescently spewed by candidate Trump over the issue of Chinese economic domineering and hegemony can  be overlooked as proud and gainful electioneering and big talk as the reality of geo-economics point otherwise. One gainful factor for the US can be the fact that Chinese import and export growth all collating into a growth rate seems to have become ordinary and tapered off against expectations of sustaining the Chinese strong growth rate. China has a great deal to do with construction activity and the Han nation has not been able to make the transition from a crassly manufacturing economy to an economy characterised by consumption and services. It is here that lies the catch in the trade equation between Washington and Beijing. But, America has its innate economic might and brute and mammoth military strength which makes it a hyper power with hyper-puissance. China too goes by the dictum that in international politics there are no eternal friends and foes and China did the “globally unthinkable” by attacking Vietnam, which it had protected and nurtured for a few past decades. The US already has a China-centric offensive scenario in place.

A war between the US and China might be tantamount to World War-III. How a war would be initiated between Washington and China? This is a pertinent poser. It might begin under the imposed duress of Taiwan and North Korea along with the Chinese economic diplomatic issues in the Pacific rim countries and the larger fracas over the South China Sea. The Chinese stratagem of developing a navy for the “far seas” and a blue water force along with its fleet of submarines points in the direction of a Chinese rise which is no longer peaceful but reflects a rising dragon in the Orient. Any event amounting to a North Korean attack on South Korea or nuking of Japan along with a Taiwanese declaration of formal Independence can trigger a series of conditions which might militarily involve both the hyper powers. Still, keeping in view the vortex of geo-economics and the shadows of the 2008 global recession and related aftershocks, the Chinese compulsion to tolerate an America-ordained security system and US alliance commitments to regional states hold aloft the banner of peace.


(Manan Dwivedi teaches International Relations at Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi)

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