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Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Energy & Economics
SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2019: ZTE room at the High-Tech Fair China 2019 at Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center.

What should Europeans do about the U.S.-China Rivalry in key strategic technologies?

by Roberta Haar , Hengyi Yang

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском In October 2023, the EU Commission identified four technology fields as critical: advanced semiconductors; artificial intelligence (AI); quantum, and; biotechnologies.[1] All four areas are greatly impacted by the U.S.-China rivalry in technology, making it essential for Europeans to understand the Sino-American competition. This article examines this rivalry from the Chinese and U.S. perspectives. It recounts their prevailing attitudes, which are shaped by recent events, and that, in turn, mold Chinese and American strategic approaches. From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, its geo-technological competition with the U.S. is novel and passively learned. During Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese government still positioned technology under the economic-oriented strategy of innovation-driven development. This stance followed the idea that ‘science and technology constitute a primary productive force’ and the ‘peaceful development’ principles set during Deng Xiaoping’s era. However, around 2018, two sanctions incidents that targeted Chinese telecommunications giants shifted Chinese leaders’ understanding of tech strategy into the geopolitical context. The first sanction incident involved ZTE, China’s second-largest communications equipment manufacturer. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration accused ZTE of selling telecom equipment containing American chip technology to Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $1.2 billion. However, in 2018, Trump’s government stated that ZTE did not comply with the settlement agreement, coupling previous sanctions with export controls on ZTE in April 2018. The second incident involved Meng Wanzhou, then Vice-Chairwoman and CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, during a layover in December 2018. Her detention was at the extradition request of the Trump administration, which levied charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These included bank and wire fraud and outright violations of U.S. sanctions via a subsidiary called Skycom Tech, which allegedly concealed Huawei’s activities in Iran. The necessity of a strategic adjustment These two incidents caused an uproar in the Chinese media, followed by a surge in public patriotic sentiment. However, for the Chinese government, the impact and significance of the two cases were quite different. The essence of the ZTE case was commercial sanctions, which meant that ZTE violated business norms and deserved economic punishment. The official Chinese government stance was that ‘this is just an individual case of corporate violation.’ Despite this position, the fact that the government was actively involved nonetheless politicized the incident within China. It was Xi Jinping himself who negotiated with Trump to save ZTE from bankruptcy after which ZTE became a state-owned enterprise with absolute state control—a move that ultimately resulted in ZTE gaining a greater domestic market share than Huawei. At the international level, the top-level nature of negotiations prevented the ZTE incident from overly politicizing then-ongoing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. While the ZTE episode was resolved with little rancor, Chinese senior officials became concerned about the impact that the U.S. might have on China’s strategic technology companies.[2] In November 2018, Tan Tieniu, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported to China’s top leaders that they should learn from the ZTE incident. They should avoid overreliance on imports of core electronic components and chips, and they should not repeat mistakes made by ZTE. In the same month, Xi Jinping mentioned in a speech that ‘internationally, advanced technology and key technology is more and more difficult to obtain… forcing us to travel the road of self-reliance.’ Terms like technological security, technology ‘chokepoints’ (卡脖子), and core technologies in key fields (关键核心技术) began to appear frequently in Chinese official discourse. These reflected Chinese leadership’s views about the ZTE incident that were in turn shaping strategic thoughts on the geopolitical technology competition with the United States. It was the Meng Wanzhou incident at the end of 2018 that for Chinese leaders confirmed the necessity of a strategic adjustment. As in the ZTE case, Huawei was involved in a business violation that from the Chinese perspective should have resulted in corporate punishment. Instead, a personal arrest warrant was issued for Meng, thereby escalating a commercial sanction into a political and diplomatic incident. Le Yucheng, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urgently summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to China and issued a stern protest. The Chinese government also arrested two Canadian citizens in China, sentencing one to 11 years in prison. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada wrote that the Meng Wanzhou case was a ‘premeditated political act in which the United States wields its regime power to hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.’ Chinese Defensive Deterrence These two episodes shaped and reinforced Chinese leaders’ strategic thinking about its geopolitical technology competition with the U.S. The 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the CCP in 2020 proposed ‘making technological self-reliance’ a strategic goal. Soon all official documents established a new tone for China’s technology strategy based on self-reliance. Previously, China pursued a reassurance strategy, a strategy that showed goodwill towards the U.S. and the system it led. Thus, in theory, China had two strategic options: reassurance and/or deterrence. The former strategy involves showing friendliness towards the U.S. and its allies, thereby releasing tension, and maybe re-joining the U.S.-led system. A reassurance strategy allowed China more time for stable development—the logic of ‘keeping a low profile’ of the Deng Xiaoping era. The Xi Jinping government picked the second option, deterrence, which is to show strength or use countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of further U.S. trade or coercive action. To make a deterrence strategy work, however, Xi further believed China needed to gain strong capacity in key tech fields. Therefore, Xi first mobilized domestic R&D resources and tried to acquire advanced technologies before using diplomatic countermeasures. The core logic underlying this geopolitical technology strategy is one of ‘defensive deterrence.’ A typical example of this strategy in play concerns the semiconductor industry. Facing export controls on semiconductor equipment from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, the Chinese government first increased R&D investment in the sector, trying to overcome ‘chokepoint’ technologies. As a result, China’s investment in semiconductor R&D grew from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2022, an increase of 150%. At the same time, the Chinese government increased investment in the production of key raw materials (silicon, gallium nitride, etc.) and semiconductor production bases. It also guided industries upstream while also pushing for downstream integration through policies to improve and strengthen supply-chain security. Chinese policy also moved to increase international supply-chain dependence on China through its comparative advantages in the semiconductor industry (and even other industries) in a hedging move against the U.S. and its allies. For example, in the automotive chip sector, in the supply of vital raw materials, and in the semiconductor equipment markets, China sought to utilize its significant comparative advantages. In August 2023, the Chinese government announced export controls on gallium and germanium, two key materials for manufacturing semiconductors. China Seeking More Regulatory Power But in addition to responding to what was perceived as U.S. containment policies in the area of technology, China’s strategic use of technology followed another approach, one led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). This third approach sought more regulatory power, for example, in the areas of civilian AI where China has huge potential.[3] Starting in 2018, the Chinese government showed a strong determination to introduce and study AI ethics and technical standards.[4] Based on these domestic framework policies, various diplomatic initiatives, and standards proposals, the MFA and MIIT expanded China’s regulatory influence in the field of AI. For example, the MFA proposed the ‘Global Data Security Initiative’ in 2020 and the ‘Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative’ in 2023. Minister Wang Yi explicitly stated ‘We hope to provide a blueprint for related international discussions and rule-making.’ The China Electronics Standardization Institute, affiliated with the MIIT, also actively participates in the formulation of international new technology standards. Selectively decoupling: U.S. Attitudes and Strategies When it comes to strategic technologies, the Joe Biden administration has generally maintained a stance toward China that aligns closely with the previous administration led by Donald J. Trump. This is especially the case concerning competitive technologies such as 5G/6G, the specialized processors designed to handle the computational demands of AI, quantum computing, and electric vehicles (EVs). Taking a page from U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War playbook of outspending the Soviet Union, president Biden initiated a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan. This plan, not unlike China’s policy to increase domestic innovation and strength, allocated funds for sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy, clean water, and high-speed broadband for both wired and wireless technologies. The justification for these investments, part of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) policy and later incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, was that they were a response to Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals of doubling China’s economy by 2035, intending to establish China as a global leader in biotechnology, green energy, and AI. In addition to a spending strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness in strategic technologies, the Biden administration continued with some of Trump’s punitive measures. For example, Biden maintained tariffs amounting to approximately $300 billion. He also continued action against Huawei, which has the potential to outcompete in 5G/6G mobile network technology. The Trump administration used the Bureau of Industry and Security to exclude Huawei from global semiconductor supply chains and it placed the company on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, thus requiring U.S. companies to obtain a license before exporting to Huawei. As discussed above, Trump’s executive branch also brought fraud allegations against Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng. While Biden kept in place Trump-era prohibitions on sales of U.S. goods to companies like Huawei, as well as maintaining restrictions on exports of U.S. critical technology, he did quickly resolve the dispute over Meng. Within hours of the deal for her release, the two men caught up in the game of hostage diplomacy left China on a flight back to Canada. Highlighting the political nature of the incident, when Meng returned to China, senior local officials at the airport met her. Encourage Multilateralism to meet Global Challenges Along with strident measures, the Biden administration also sought a more nuanced stance. Indications that suggest a less hawkish approach to China include emphasizing a collaborative approach toward global challenges like climate change and future pandemics. Biden further pushed for engagement in high-level meetings with, for example, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held talks with their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021. These talks were frostier than U.S. officials would have preferred but they got the two sides to engage in some dialogue. Similarly, Biden sought to engage with China in multilateral forums and organizations where both countries are members, such as the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Biden hosted in November 2023. Even the choice of San Francisco as the venue was designed to be conciliatory as it has historic ties to Asia as well as a central role in global technology as the home of Silicon Valley. Still, one must keep in mind that in deciding on a strategy towards China, Biden must also contend with a Congress and public opinion that are growing increasingly skeptical of doing business with China, which they believe steals good jobs and sends balloons over American territory to spy on U.S. critical infrastructure. One primary shaper of U.S. attitudes towards China are the leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lead one of the last bastions of functioning bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. With their many investigations, subpoenas, and policy recommendations, the House China Committee has become the ‘beating heart’ of U.S. Congressional policy, which, with regards to technology, argues for selectively decoupling from China for national security reasons.[5] A way forward Faced with the U.S.’ decoupling or blunting strategies and China’s defensive deterrence strategy, what steps might European nations take to navigate through the choppy, contentious waters of strategic technologies? Are there also steps that Europeans can take to mitigate the impact on their own strategic technology vulnerability? First, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in the rapidly digitizing global economy, Europeans need to stress that it is in the collective interest of everyone to establish institutions, norms, and policies for effective global governance. Rather than engaging in reactive geopolitical maneuvers resembling a chess game, these institutions could concentrate on constructing a more cooperative foundation for crucial technology sectors. Second, along with this recognition, efforts could be directed toward the development of future institutions, policies, and norms that set standards for next-generation and sensitive technologies. Such efforts should take into account initiatives already made by the Chinese and the Americans. Such efforts could also coincide with a third approach of encouraging the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive multilateral approach. The U.S. needs to push for collaboration beyond issues such as climate change and economic inequality to encompass the intensely competitive areas in technology like those discussed in this article. For one, Europeans could point out that U.S. blunting strategies are simply not working and may even be backfiring by accelerating Chinese technological advances. In September 2023, Huawei released the Mate 60 Pro smartphone equipped with a 7nm domestic chip, revealing that China has overcome some hurdles that U.S. bans were designed to stymie.[6] Since no one knows how long China’s defensive deterrence strategy will hold (and shift to what Chinese leaders believe is a more offensive deterrence), nor whether Trump or someone as equally anti-multilateral as Trump will be (re)elected, Europeans have many incentives to encourage a softer engagement between China and the U.S. Changing the narrative is a fourth important recommendation. It is essential to recognize that the essence of the Sino-American technology competition is more about narrative construction than a description of the current situation. One indication of this is that both sides believe that the other side started what has been described as the ‘new Cold War.’[7] It does not help that both sides have engaged in behavior that supports the other side’s narrative with some hawkish actors employing similar bash-the-other tactics to gain political advantage.[8] Typically, the factual basis for technological competition is grounded in industrial competition, corporate rivalry, or intellectual property disputes. However, the high-tech relationship between China and the United States has been one of complementarity as well as rivalry. Both China and the United States, as well as European stakeholders, need to be careful of the narratives they espouse, lest they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This work has been funded by the REMIT project, funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101094228 Footnotes [1] EU Commission Recommendation of 3.10.2023 on critical technology areas for the EU’s economic security for further risk assessment with Member States. [2] Gregory C. Allen. 2023. ‘China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War.’ csis.org, May 3. [3] Jing Cheng and Jinghan Zeng. 2023. ‘Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance.’ Journal of Contemporary China 32(143): 794-810. [4] See White Paper on AI Standardization, a Guide to the Building of a National Standard Framework for New Generation AI, a report on Ethical Norms for New Generation AI, a White Paper on Trustworthy AI as well as other regulatory documents. [5] Robbie Gramer. 2023. ‘The Masterminds: Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.’ foreignpolicy.com, November 27. [6] Weiwen Wang. (2023). ‘China Breaks Through 7nm Chip Technology, Has the China-U.S. Tech War Entered Phase 2.0?’ (中国突破7纳米芯片技术 中美科技战进入2.0阶段?). Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), September 17. Retrieved from https://www.zaobao.com.sg/news/china/story20230917-1433739 [7] Patricia M. Kim, Matthew Turpin, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Jessica Chen Weiss, Eun A Jo, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball. 2023. ‘Should the US pursue a new Cold War with China?’ Brookings.edu, September 1. [8] Roberta N. Haar. 2020. ‘Will China replace the U.S. as the world’s predominant power?’ Atlantisch Perspectief 44(3):9-13.

Energy & Economics
Chinese Yuan on the map of South America. Trade between China and Latin American countries, economy and investment

Ahead of the curve: Why the EU and US risk falling behind China in Latin America

by Ángel Melguizo , Margaret Myers

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском As Beijing’s investment approach to Latin America focuses on industries of strategic importance, the EU and US will need to contend with growing Chinese competition China is pouring less foreign direct investment (FDI) into Latin America. But while this may seem like a sign of Beijing’s disinterest in the region, data suggests that Chinese companies are simply recalibrating, not retreating. In doing so, they are becoming important players in sectors key to Western interests: critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy. While the European Union and the United States have long been top investors in Latin America, increased competition with Chinese investment now jeopardises their interests in the Latin American industries that will become most crucial to the digital and green transitions. The number of Chinese projects in Latin America grew by 33 per cent from 2018-2023, compared with the previous five-year period of 2013-2017, even as the total value declined. In other words, Chinese companies are making more investments in the region but are pursuing smaller-scale projects on average. These investments are also more focused on what China calls “new infrastructure“ (新基建), a term which encompasses telecommunications, fintech, renewable energy, and other innovation-related industries. In 2022, 60 per cent of China’s investments were in these frontier sectors, a key economic priority for the country. Beijing also views smaller projects in these industries as incurring less operational and reputational risk, especially compared to some of the large-scale infrastructure investment projects often associated with the Belt and Road initiative. Like China, the investment priorities of the G7 grouping – particularly the US and the EU – are centring on critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy as they aim to grow and reinforce existing economic and political partnerships in Latin America. However, both the US and the EU risk falling short of China’s investment strategy in the region. The US has signalled want for greater economic engagement with the region, especially in sectors of strategic interest. However, to date, US efforts to compete with China remain largely focused on building US domestic capacity in these strategic sectors, even as some US companies, such as Intel, are increasingly focused on including regional partners in their supply chains. Some see opportunity for Latin America in Joe Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is aimed at incentivising the energy transition while also de-risking critical supply chains. For example, certain countries in the region may benefit from preferential market access for their lithium or other key inputs to new energy and technology supply chains. However, the reach of the IRA – which remains a largely domestic policy – does not stretch as far as China’s current investment reshuffle. The Americas Act, announced by members of Congress in March could generate promising new investment opportunities for the region, as it encourages US companies and others to move their operations out of China, to which Latin America stands as a promising replacement. But Americas Act reshoring would primarily incentivise textiles and potentially medical equipment manufacturing, with less overall focus on the range of “new infrastructure” industries that China is prioritising. Chinese interests in information and communication technologies reveal a similar story. While the US has focused its policy on 5G equipment sales, China is undertaking a process of vertical integration in Latin American tech sectors that will dramatically boost its competitiveness. For instance, Chinese company Huawei is rapidly expanding its focus to include data centres, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and other services, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. (Computing accounted for a sizable 41 per cent of total Chinese information technology investment in the region between 2018 and the first half of 2023.) At the same time, Global Gateway, the EU’s proposal for a global investment initiative is yet to reach its potential in the region. Brussels is looking to be Latin America’s partner of choice by building local capacity for making batteries and final products like electric vehicles, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted last year. Yet even as the EU signals renewed commitment, China is becoming increasingly dominant in the electric vehicle market in Latin America and other regions. China surpassed the US in electric vehicle sales in 2023, with Chinese companies accounting for 45 per cent of total global sales and three times that of Germany’s. What is more, China has invested $11 billion in lithium extraction in the region since 2018, as part of a bid to control a third of global lithium-mine production capacity. Meanwhile the EU has secured some access to lithium as part of trade deals with Chile, alongside other nations, but this pales in comparison to what will be required to fuel the future of EU battery production. Latin America as a whole accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Based on its current levels of engagement in the region, the EU risks falling short of lithium, stalling its battery production and subsequently, its electric vehicle sales, just as China advances in this field. The window is closing for the EU, the US, and other partners looking to both maintain market share and compete with China in these Latin American industries, despite still-high rates of US and EU investment in and trade with the region. Indeed, US automakers increasingly see Chinese competition across the globe as an “extinction-level event.” Ensuring competitiveness in “new infrastructure” and related sectors will require a continuous commitment by partners to building and supporting project pipelines, and to delivering products and services at price points that can compete with China’s subsidised offerings. Both the EU and the US remain critical economic partners for Latin America and are contributing in ways that China is not. Still, complacency risks allowing China to take the lead in emerging industries in the region, some of which weigh heavily in the EU’s green and digital transformation. To protect their own future industries, the EU and the US need to first take a longer look at Latin America’s – especially as China vies for a dominant position.

Energy & Economics
Collision of shipment containers with Chinese and US flags

Drivers of U.S.-China Strategic Competition

by Stephen R. Nagy

Understanding the Chinese Perspective The relationship between the United States and China is one of the most important and mutually beneficial bilateral relationships in the world. Nonetheless, it is also complex and contentious, with both countries vying for geopolitical influence and economic dominance. This brief examines drivers of U.S.-China strategic competition from the perspective of Beijing incorporating the prism of MarxistLeninist ideology, domestic politics in the U.S., China's needed alignment with Russia, nationalism, technological advancements such as AI, the role of regional players such as ASEAN, Japan, and the E.U., and Comprehensive National Power (CNP). Understanding this analytical lens contributes to deeper comprehension of China's security anxieties and world view that may provide insight to enhance engagement, resilience, and deterrence in bilateral relations with China. Introduction The relationship between the United States and China is one of the most important and mutually beneficial bilateral relationships in the world today. To illustrate, according to data published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), total imports and exports grew 2.5 percent year-on-year to reach US$690.6 billion in 2022, breaking the previous record of US$658.8 billion set in 2018. This increase is despite the divisions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and mutual unfavorable ratings. Nonetheless, the U.S.-China relationship is also complex and contentious, with both countries vying for geopolitical influence and economic dominance. Whether it is the rules-based Free and Open IndoPacific or the realization of Xi Jinping’s China dream, the competition for primacy between the U.S. and China will impact friends, partners, and foes of both states. Viewed from Beijing, Chinese scholars and analysts base their assessment of the trajectory of the U.S.-China strategic competition through several lens including the prism of Marxist-Leninist ideology, domestic politics in the U.S., China’s needed alignment with Russia, nationalism, technological advancements such as AI, the role of regional players such as ASEAN, Japan, and the EU, and Comprehensive National Power (CNP). Shaped by Marxist-Leninist Ideology Marxist-Leninist ideology has played a leading if not central role in shaping the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) approach to governance and foreign relations. The CCP came to power in 1949 following a successful revolution led by Mao Zedong. Mao was heavily influenced by Marxist-Leninist thought. Since then, the CCP has maintained a commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology, although its interpretation and application have evolved over time. Today, as former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and author of The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping's China writes, Xi’s China leans left in terms of Marxist-Leninist socio-economic organization and right in terms of nationalism. Rudd’s analysis echoes President Xi’s speech on “Hold High the Great Banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive in Unity to Build a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects” in his report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC. In that speech, Xi stressed that “Marxism is the fundamental guiding ideology upon which our Party and our country are founded and thrive. Our experience has taught us that, at the fundamental level, we owe the success of our Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics to the fact that Marxism works, particularly when it is adapted to the Chinese context and the needs of our times.” At its core, Marxist-Leninist ideology emphasizes the importance of class struggle and the need for the working class to overthrow the ruling class to achieve a classless society. In the Chinese context, this has translated into a focus on creating a socialist society and promoting the welfare of the Chinese people under the umbrella term ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’. In terms of China’s relationship with the U.S., Marxist-Leninist ideology has contributed to a view of the U.S. as a capitalist and imperialist power that seeks to undermine China’s socialist system. This view is rooted in the Marxist-Leninist belief that capitalist powers are inherently expansionist and seek to dominate other countries to secure their own economic and political interests. They see the U.S. as an imperialist power seeking to maintain its hegemony over the world, while China represents a rising power challenging the established order, as written by Graham Allison in his book Thucydides’ Trap. Chinese analysts believe that the U.S. is threatened by China’s rise and is seeking to contain it through various means, including economic sanctions, military posturing, and diplomatic pressure as evidenced by the Trump administration’s trade war, its network of alliances throughout the region, the advent of minilateral cooperation such as the Quad and AUKUS, and the perceived fomenting of independent movements in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.  They argue that the U.S. is using its military alliances and partnerships with countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia to encircle China and limit its influence in the region. These perspectives ignore that the U.S. alongside with Japan and others openly supported China’s entry into the WTO, the 2008 Summer Olympics, and gave China a leadership position at the Paris Climate Accord. These initiatives demonstrated that the U.S. and other countries were willing to work with China on global issues and support its development. Destabilizing Influence of U.S. Domestic Politics While Marxist-Leninist perspectives of U.S.-China relations offer a macro-level understanding of how China views the inevitability of great power rivalry between Washington and Beijing, Chinese analysts also pay close attention to domestic politics in the U.S. and its impact on U.S.-China relations. Chinese analysts believe that the current political climate in the U.S. is highly polarized, and that these domestic political dynamics are affecting U.S. foreign policy, including its stance towards China. They see the Trump administration’s trade war with China as a reflection of this polarization, and argue that it has damaged the relationship between the two countries. They also note that the Biden administration has continued many of the same policies as the Trump administration, including maintaining tariffs on Chinese goods and pursuing a tough stance on technology transfer and intellectual property theft. The build-up to the 2024 presidential election for most will be one of intensifying securitization of relations with China. President Biden will not be in a position to show any weakness in his China policy. Equally so, the Republicans, whether it is former President Trump or an alternative GOP candidate will take an “All because of China” approach, when it comes to foreign policy, like advocating for a hard decoupling of the economies or even more provocatively, possibly migrating away or redefining the “One China” policy. Developing China-Russian Alignment Chinese analysts also view the relationship between China and Russia as an important factor in the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. They see the two countries as natural partners, sharing a common interest in challenging U.S. dominance of the world. They believe that the China-Russia all-weather partnership is growing stronger and that it poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests. For Russia, Pax Sinica would offer it a much more hospitable environment than the one provided by the Pax Americana, according to the authors of The Beijing-Moscow Axis: The Foundations of an Asymmetric Alliance published by the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW). For China, a tightening of the alignment with Russia will be critical to ensuring that U.S. does not drive a wedge between China and Russia by pursuing a policy of containment against both countries, a policy that Chinese analysts view as unlikely to succeed. The invasion of Ukraine is a case in point. Despite Russia’s invasion violating the U.N. Charter and China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, Beijing has taken a pro-Russian neutrality position refusing to condemn Russia. This is not an endorsement of the invasion or of Putin. It is a clear indication of the importance China places on the deepening Sino-Russian alignment and the reality that neither country can afford a geopolitical divorce. In fact, the recent paper ‘China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis’ continues to echo President Xi’s Workers Report at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, which explicitly used the expression that “no country’s security should come at the expense of another country’s security,” an explicit rejection of the U.S. and Western countries’ views that Russia has engaged in an unprovoked attack against the sovereign state of Ukraine.  Intensifying Nationalism Chinese nationalism is another important factor by which Chinese analysts understand the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. They view Chinese nationalism as a natural response to the country’s history of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, including the U.S. Carefully curated since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, Zheng Wang writes in his book Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations that Beijing has placed the century of humiliation at the center of China’s national building process and a nationalist movement in which victimhood, national rejuvenation, and a perineal sense of insecurity concerning the West and particularly the U.S. is the major pillar. These narratives have been meticulously manipulated and deployed to build a national identity in which China must resist anti-China forces and those states that wish to prevent “China’s rightful rise.” Events such as the 70th Anniversary of Victory of Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War, 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, or national aspirations such as the China Dream are all constructed with the purpose of infusing into Chinese citizens a nationalism linked to the CCP’s selective understanding of history. Based on these selective views of history, scholars such as Qin Pang in their co-authored article on “China’s Growing Power Makes Its Youth Hawkish?” Evidence from the Chinese Youth’s Attitudes toward the U.S. and Japan’ find that Chinese citizens view the United States as seeking to contain China’s rise and limit its influence in the region, and that this is seen by many Chinese as an affront to their national pride. Chinese analysts believe that Chinese nationalism is a powerful force that will shape the country's foreign policy for years to come, and that it will continue to be a source of tension in U.S.-China relations. For the U.S. and other like-minded states, Chinese nationalism that is based on victimhood, national rejuvenation, and a perennial sense of insecurity concerning the West will not be a platform for stabilizing and creating constructive relations, especially if this nationalism drives territorial expansion in the South and East China Seas, the Himalayan plateau or across the Taiwan straits.  Dominating AI and Other Technologies  The rapid advancement of technology, particularly in the areas of AI and 5G, is another factor that Chinese analysts believe will shape the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. They see China as a leader in these areas, with the potential to surpass the United States in terms of technological innovation and economic growth. Chinese analysts argue that the U.S. is threatened by China’s technological progress and is seeking to limit its access to advanced technology, particularly in the areas of AI and 5G. They also believe that the United States is using national security concerns as a pretext for restricting Chinese access to these technologies. The U.S. Chips Act and the growing first tier semiconductor and technology firewall that is being erected around China by the U.S. in cooperation with Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and Taiwan demonstrate the centrality the U.S places on dominating these spheres of technology. The consequence for China according to analysts in and out of China is that it will no longer have access to the most sophisticated semi-conductors, semiconductor producing machines and the associated expertise to keep up in the race to be the first mover when it comes to AI and other technologies that rely on first tier semi-conductor chips. In concrete terms, this means that as the U.S. and its allies will form a chips coalition among like-minded countries resulting in their collective abilities to generate scientific breakthroughs that can be translated into military and economic advantages that will preserve U.S. dominance and the existing rules-based order. Beijing is aware of this challenge and has attempted to reduce its reliance on the U.S. and Western states through its Made in China 2025 strategy and Dual Circulation Strategy. Whether these initiatives will be sufficient to outmaneuver U.S. initiatives to dominate semi-conductors and ultimately AI and other sensitive technologies is yet to be determined. Role of ASEAN, Japan, and the EU Chinese analysts also pay close attention to the role of regional players such as ASEAN, Japan, and the EU in the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. They believe that these countries have a significant influence on the balance of power in the region and that their relationships with the United States and China are critical. Japan’s release in December 2022 of three strategy documents—the National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS), and Defense Buildup Program aims to uphold the current rules-based order and prevent the emergence of Chinese hegemony in the IndoPacific region. Meanwhile, the new Washington Declaration between the United States and the Republic of Korea (RoK) commits to engage in deeper, cooperative decision-making on nuclear deterrence, including through enhanced dialogue and information sharing regarding growing nuclear threats to the ROK and the region. The recent meeting between U.S. President Biden and Philippine President Marcos reaffirms the United States’ ironclad alliance commitments to the Philippines, underscoring that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.- Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”. These are explicit examples of how U.S. allies, through their cooperation and partnerships with the U.S., are aiming to preserve U.S. hegemony. In short, Chinese analysts argue that the United States is seeking to use its relationships with these countries to contain China’s rise, while China is seeking to build closer relationships with its neighbors and BRI partners to expand its influence and build win-win relationships based on its Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. Lastly, U.S. and ASEAN watchers in China believe that the United States is losing influence in the region, particularly with ASEAN countries, and that China is poised to fill the power vacuum owing to its extensive economic ties in the region, ties that many in Southeast Asia are dependent on for sustainable development despite reservations over the possible negative ramifications of increased Chinese economic and diplomatic influence in the region. Heft of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) Sensitive to the changing power balances and what this means for China’s ability to achieve its core national interests, China places enormous weight on Comprehensive National Power (CNP) as a key measure of a country’s overall strength and capability in all aspects of national development, including economic, military, technological, cultural, and diplomatic power as Hu Angang and Men Honghua write in their article title “The rising of modern China: Comprehensive national power and grand strategy”. The concept of CNP has been used by Chinese leaders since the 1980s to assess China’s relative strength compared to other countries, particularly the United States. In recent years, China has focused on increasing its CNP as part of its strategic competition with the U.S. Beijing aims to surpass the U.S. in terms of overall power and influence, believing that a higher CNP will enable the country to better protect its national interests, enhance its global influence, and achieve its long-term strategic goals. To increase its CNP, China has pursued a range of policies and initiatives. One of the key areas of focus has been economic development, with China becoming the world’s second-largest economy and a major player in global trade and investment. Through the Made in China 2025, the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), and the Dual Circulation Model, China has also invested heavily in science and technology, with a particular emphasis on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 5G networks.  In addition, China has modernized its military and expanded its global military presence based on the civil-military fusion (MCF), with the goal of becoming a world-class military power by the middle of the century. China has also pursued a more assertive foreign policy, seeking to expand its influence in key regions such as Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Concurrently, China has also sought to promote its soft power, through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to enhance connectivity and economic cooperation between China and other countries. China has also sought to promote its culture and values through the Confucius Institutes and its latest Global Civilization Initiative calling for “called for respecting the diversity of civilizations, advocating the common values of humanity, valuing the inheritance and innovation of civilizations, and strengthening international people-to-people exchanges and cooperation.”  China’s focus on increasing its CNP is driven by its desire to become a major global power and to challenge the U.S.’ dominant position in the international system. While China’s rise has brought many benefits to the country and the world, it has also raised concerns among some countries, particularly the U.S., about the potential implications of China’s growing power and influence. This is especially true as we have seen a growing track record of economic coercion, grey zone tactics, and rejecting international law such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s July 2016 decision against its claims in the South China Sea.Conclusion Chinese analysts clearly view the relationship between the United States and China through a complex lens. They see the relationship with the United States as one of the most important in the world and believe that it will continue to shape the trajectory of global politics and economics for years to come. While there are significant challenges and tensions in the relationship between the two countries, Chinese analysts also see opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, particularly in areas such as climate change and global health.