Sino-US ties at a crossroads

THE confrontation instigated by the United States with China continues to intensify. The pandemic has escalated tensions between them that were already at a record high before the Covid outbreak. This fraught situation has variously been described as a new Cold War, end of the post-1979 era, a geopolitical turning point and less seriously, a ‘scold war’.

What does this mean for the world’s most consequential relationship? Is this a transformative moment from where ties will have to be completely redefined rather than reset? Will the two global powers arrive at a modus vivendi or will their stand-off become an enduring feature of the international landscape? How much of China-bashing in the US reflects campaign politics in an election year? Is the friction an inevitable result of a global power’s response to the rise of another that can challenge its predominant position — a classic phenomenon witnessed throughout history when power dynamics shift fundamentally?

Is economic decoupling between the two inescapable? Or will present hostilities eventually give way to a restructuring of ties in which relations may end up being fiercely competitive and selectively cooperative but with overtones of hostility?

Clearer answers will emerge over time. But a key factor that could shape future relations will be the US presidential election in November when the next occupant of the White House will have to decide how to manage relations with China: to stabilise the relationship on new terms, or embark on a course of drawn-out confrontation. In both eventualities, a return to engagement that previously characterised relations with China is unlikely.

The future course of Sino-US ties will have far-reaching consequences for the world.

This is because the political consensus and public opinion that has emerged in the US — fanned by President Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric — sees China as an adversary that has exploited the US on trade and poses a strategic challenge that needs to be countered and contained, not engaged. Many foreign policy advisers of the Democratic contender for the presidency, Joe Biden, also happen to be hawks on China. Therefore, whoever wins the election will likely follow a tough line on China.

Beijing’s interest lies in de-escalating tensions and steadying relations. But it is up against the weight of US-led Western opinion that has become increasingly sceptical and hostile towards China. The European Union which has strong economic equities in ties with China is being assiduously courted by Beijing to encourage it to follow an independent path from Washington. But developments in Hong Kong have added to European suspicions of China.

In the face of Trump’s provocative statements and actions during the pandemic, China has generally kept its cool, reacting sharply only when Washington crossed certain red lines or when Trump’s patently misleading narrative needed to be countered. But top US officials led by Trump have continued virulent criticism of China. This provoked China’s foreign minister Wang Yi to warn that the US was pushing China to the brink of a new Cold War. But he also stressed that both countries had a major responsibility for “world peace and development”, and that “China and the US stand to gain from cooperation, and lose from confrontation”.

There are limits though to China’s forbearance in the face of offensive US actions. There is fresh thinking in Beijing about how to deal with a more antagonistic Washington and growing nationalist sentiment that their country should push back against Western criticism and US bullying. This sentiment is already driving a more assertive Chinese policy in Asia.

China is expected to emerge as the world’s largest economy in a decade. This should itself persuade the US and its Western allies that engagement is necessary in their own interest with a country that will be pivotal to achieving post-pandemic global economic revival and addressing a host of other international challenges. However, this rational calculation and also the fact that China remains Washington’s biggest lender may not be enough to overcome US apprehensions about the challenge posed to America’s global position by China’s rise.

A report titled United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China, submitted by the White House to Congress last month, lays bare these wide-ranging concerns. It says that US National Security Strategy demands that Washington “rethink the failed policies of the past two decades — policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners”. The future approach should be based on “tolerance of greater bilateral friction”.

The report says that America is in strategic competition with China and enumerates the economic and security challenges posed by Beijing. The tone is of a power anxious to counter a strategic challenger whose economic strength and reach have already eroded America’s global pre-eminence. More explicitly, US Defence Secretary Mark Asper declared in February that China is top of the Pentagon’s list of potential adversaries.

In one of the most influential books on Sino-US relations published in 2017, Harvard scholar Graham Allison invoked the ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ depiction of the dangerous trap that emerges when one great power challenges or is poised to displace another. The historian had pointed to the inevitability of war when the fear of the rise of another power determined the established power’s actions. Allison recalled that in 12 of 16 cases in history this dynamic between the two led to conflict.

The need to avoid the Thucydides’ Trap has not only been Allison’s advice but that of several thinkers and policymakers, most notably Henry Kissinger. Allison often quotes Kissinger as saying, “The Thucydides’ Trap is the best lens for looking through the noise and news of the day to the underlying dynamic driving the relationship between the US and China.” Kissinger has also frequently warned of the devastating consequences of falling into this trap and urged the need to place relations on a stable and peaceful course.

The key question is whether the present era’s most significant bilateral relationship will be managed responsibly to avert a complete breakdown, even conflict. After all the future course of Sino-US relations will be a game changer for the world, with far-reaching consequences for the global economy and international peace and security.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.

This article taken from www.dawn.com

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Redefining National Security for the Post-Pandemic World

This article taken from www.project-syndicate.org

 

Three decades of efforts to broaden the definition of “national security” have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Thinking instead in terms of global security would expand policy discussions beyond national governments and lead to a stronger emphasis on making societies more resilient.

WASHINGTON, DC – The world has spent the last 30 years trying to redefine “national security” in ways that will allow nation-states to prepare for and tackle a wider range of threats to our existence and wellbeing. Alternatively, national security has been juxtaposed with “human security,” again in an effort to focus money and energy on dangers to humanity as much as to national sovereignty.

But those efforts have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Instead of widening our definition of national security, we need to start narrowing it. That means distinguishing national security from global security and putting military security in its place alongside many other equally important but distinct priorities.

We must begin by asking four essential questions: What or who is being protected? What threat or threats are they being protected against? Who is doing the protecting? And how is protection being provided?

In its classic form, national security involves protecting nation-states from military aggression. More precisely, as Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter states, it is about preventing or countering “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Nation-states now face other threats, including cyberattacks and terrorism, although such attacks generally must be sponsored by one state against another to threaten a country’s territorial integrity or political independence. Hence, these threats really qualify as subsets of military security. Climate change, on the other hand, poses an existential threat to many island states as a result of rising sea levels, and similarly endangers already arid countries by contributing to desertification and water scarcity.

Moreover, whereas the world of 1945 was almost entirely defined by nation-states, today’s security experts must also focus on threats that transcend national borders. Unlike military aggression, phenomena such as terrorism, pandemics, global criminal networks, disinformation campaigns, unregulated migration, and shortages of food, water, and energy do not necessarily threaten the political independence or territorial integrity of a particular state. But they do endanger the safety and wellbeing of the world’s people.

The distinction between national and global security is not just semantic. It goes to the heart of the third question: who is doing the protecting? National security is the province of national governments, and of a fairly small group of homogeneous people within them who traditionally have focused almost entirely on military security. Those establishments have expanded in recent years to take account of issues like cybersecurity, health security, and environmental security, but only at the margins.

Thinking in terms of global security, by contrast, opens the door to participation by a far wider group of people – starting with mayors and governors, who are directly responsible for the safety and welfare of the residents of their states, provinces, and cities. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, for example, US city and state officials have been actively engaged in preventing and protecting against future attacks. They are as likely to talk to their counterparts around the world as national diplomats or defense officials are.

Even more broadly, global security has no official designees. CEOs, civic groups, philanthropists, professors, and self-appointed leaders of every description can launch and join efforts to keep all of us safe. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has provided many instances of effective leadership from sources other than national governments.

For example, while the US and Chinese governments have used the pandemic to ratchet up bilateral tensions, myriad international networks of researchers, foundations, businesses, and government agencies have been working together to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, with little concern for nationality.

Broader participation in global-security efforts will also increasingly dissolve the boundary between “domestic” and “international” affairs and policy. Health, environment, energy, cybersecurity, and criminal justice have all traditionally been seen as domestic matters, with foreign-policy and security experts regarding defense, diplomacy, and development as entirely separate realms involving relations between countries and international organizations. But this distinction will progressively crumble.

These shifts will in turn create opportunities for a vastly more diverse range of people to sit at the table on global security issues. Despite some gradual changes in conventional military domains in recent years, far more women and people of color occupy prominent positions in city governments, and in fields like health and environmental protection, including environmental justice.

The final piece of the puzzle is how to provide global security. Traditional military security is ultimately focused on winning. But many global threats primarily call for greater resilience – that is, less winning than withstanding. As Sharon Burke of New America has argued, the goal is more to build security at home than to destroy enemies abroad.

We certainly still want to “win,” if winning means prevailing over a virus, or eradicating a terrorist cell or disinformation network. But the deep nature of global threats means they can be reduced, but almost never eliminated. Arming people with the means to recognize and avoid danger, survive trauma, and adapt to new circumstances is a better long-term strategy.

Nearly twice as many Americans have now died of COVID-19 than died in the Vietnam War. But many national leaders in the US and elsewhere remain focused on great-power competition, and appear less concerned with the pandemic’s mounting death toll than with distracting domestic publics by pointing fingers at other countries. And yet the lessons of this crisis will loom large in how we think about and provide for our security in the future.

That will be particularly true for younger generations. New America’s Alexandra Stark, for example, argues that COVID-19 is her generation’s 9/11. Instead of the highly militarized anti-terrorism response that the US adopted in the wake of those attacks, she calls for a new grand strategy “fundamentally oriented around human wellbeing,” refocusing on human health, prosperity, and opportunity. That sounds like security to me.

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