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Currencies of US, China, Russia

Can Russia and China unseat the Dollar from its throne?

by Sauradeep Bag

​Although the dollar continues to be the dominant global currency, Russia and China could dent this dominance. In the aftermath of global financial exclusion, Russia has had to make some strategic adaptations. The West’s sanctions had crippling consequences, and the Kremlin scrambled to find alternatives. In light of these developments, China became an important ally, and the Yuan—its currency—has taken on a more prominent role. It is telling that in Russia, the yuan has surpassed the United States Dollar (USD) in trading volume, a feat achieved a year after the Ukraine conflict, which triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow. As Russia and China band together, one wonders what other shifts will take place and how they will shape the future. Change is afoot, and the Russian market bears witness. The month of February saw a watershed moment as the yuan surged past the dollar in monthly trading volume for the first time. The momentum continued into March as the gap between the two currencies widened, showcasing the growing sway of the yuan. It’s an impressive feat, considering that the yuan’s trading volume on the Russian market was once quite insignificant. The winds of change blew through Russia’s financial system as the year progressed. Additional sanctions had taken their toll on the few remaining banks that still held power to make cross-border transactions in the currencies of countries that had been deemed “unfriendly” by the Kremlin. One such bank was Raiffeisen Bank International AG, whose Russian branch played a significant role in facilitating international payments within the country. However, the lender found itself under the watchful eye of both European and US authorities, which only added to the pressure. These events spurred the Kremlin and Russian companies to shift their foreign-trade transactions to currencies of countries that had not imposed sanctions.Converging coalitionsThe bond between Russia and China is growing stronger, with both nations seeking to bolster their positions on the global stage. Their alliance has spread across various spheres: military, economic, and political. With relations between Russia and the West crumbling, China has emerged as a key partner for Russia, providing it with the necessary support to counter economic and political pressure. On the other hand, China is keen on expanding its global reach, especially in the Eurasian region, and sees Russia as an important ally in this regard. President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Moscow and his pledge to expand cooperation are likely to take this partnership to greater heights. Trade and investment ties are set to grow stronger, with both nations seeking to reduce their dependence on Western economies. Russia’s focus on infrastructure development and mega projects is also likely to benefit from China’s expertise in these areas. Energy is another significant area of collaboration, with Russia being a leading exporter of oil and gas and China being the world’s largest importer of these resources. Technology is also an essential domain, with both countries investing heavily in research and development to remain competitive in the global economy. While the alliance between Russia and China will likely have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, it is a complicated relationship with both nations pursuing their interests, even as they work towards common goals. As a result of Western sanctions, Russia has shifted its foreign trade transactions away from the dollar and euro to currencies of non-restricted countries. By doing so, the Kremlin and Russian companies hope to decrease their dependence on the Western financial system and explore new avenues for conducting their trade and economic activities. This shift in strategy reflects Russia’s determination to maintain its economic stability despite restrictions on its access to the global financial system. It also underlines the growing importance of alternative currencies in global trade as countries strive to minimise the impact of sanctions and safeguard their economic interests.Structural overhaulsThe Russian Finance Ministry was not immune to the winds of change either. Earlier this year, it made the switch from the dollar to the yuan for its market operations. It even went a step further by devising a new structure for the national wealth fund, earmarking 60 percent of its assets for the yuan. The Bank of Russia joined the chorus, urging its people and businesses to consider moving their assets to the rouble or other currencies considered “friendly.” This would help mitigate the risk of having their funds blocked or frozen. As the world undergoes a seismic geopolitical shift, it seems Russia is moving in tandem, searching for ways to secure its economic future. However, the dollar still reigns supreme in the Russian market. Even with all the changes taking place, it remains the most widely used currency, ceding its throne only occasionally to the yuan. This underscores the enduring dominance of the dollar, which has played a significant role in Russia’s financial landscape for years. However, as the world continues to evolve, one wonders how long it can hold on to its crown.

Flag of USA and China on a processor, CPU or GPU microchip on a motherboard. US companies have become the latest collateral damage in US - China tech war

What Exactly Does Washington Want From Its Trade War With Beijing?

by Yukon Huang , Genevieve Slosberg

With relations at an all-time low, punitive actions targeting China have become politically popular, even if they have no analytical basis. Five years ago, then president Donald Trump launched a tariff-fueled trade war with China designed to reduce the bilateral trade deficit. His successor, President Joe Biden, then added a decoupling focus by restricting high-tech exports and curtailing professional and financial links. Both wanted to reduce imports of manufactured goods and bring home more jobs. How should one judge the effectiveness of their policies? Back then, and even more so today, the logic of Trump’s fixation on trade deficits made little sense. But security concerns have now become the rationale for reducing America’s trade relations with China and undercutting China’s growth potential. Against these yardsticks, the results are mixed but on balance unconvincing, given the costs in the form of inflationary pressures, repressed export growth, and a projected decline in global output. But U.S. politicians from both parties strongly support these restrictive measures because the costs are not obvious to their constituents, while the benefits from appearing to be tough on China resonate well with voters. Rising trade deficits The recent U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that the politically sensitive U.S. merchandise trade deficit with China was larger in 2022 than when Trump became president, while America’s overall trade deficit hit an all-time high of $1.18 trillion. This reinforces the views of nearly all the economists surveyed at the launching of Trump’s trade war: that the tariffs would not reduce U.S. trade deficits and the costs would be paid largely by Americans. For the Trump administration, the wild card was the “phase one” purchase agreement, which called for an increase of $200 billion in China’s imports from the United States. But state-to-state purchase agreements have no logical basis when global trade is largely shaped by the market-driven decisions of firms and consumers and subject to unpredictable events such as the coronavirus pandemic. Economic principles tell us that how much a country saves and spends determines its trade balance. The combination of Trump’s large tax cuts and Biden’s huge expenditure initiatives has led to soaring budget deficits, which are mirrored in record trade deficits. All this has little to do with China. Yet the Biden administration still insists that China honor the purchase agreement and links the removal of tariffs to its fulfillment. Asking China to honor an agreement that made no sense to begin with as a condition for dropping another equally ineffective policy defies logic. Trade diversification but increasing import dependence on other countries But this focus on bilateral trade numbers overlooks the sharp decline in China’s share of trade with the United States. Whereas China accounted for 47 percent of the U.S. trade deficit in 2017, it accounted for only 32 percent last year, with most of this decline offset by the increasing shares of other East Asian economies. Europe’s share of America’s overall trade deficit also declined from 21 percent to 18 percent. Only Canada and Mexico, via the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), were able to increase their share from 11 to 18 percent. More insights can be gleaned from looking at the components of trade. Although the value of U.S. imports from China was essentially the same in 2022 as it was in 2017, total U.S. imports increased by about $900 billion during this period. As a result, China’s share of the total, made up largely of manufactured goods, fell from 22 to 17 percent. This decline, however, did not reduce America’s dependency on imports of manufactured goods. The share of imports relative to overall expenditures on manufactured goods rose steadily to 34 percent in 2022 from 23 percent two decades ago. The decline in China’s share of U.S. imports of manufactured goods was more than offset by imports from other countries, notably Mexico and Vietnam. These two developing countries, more than others, were able to import heavily from the United States based on their locational advantages and free trade agreements. Vietnam and China share a border and are linked by the ASEAN-China trade agreement, while Mexico and the United States also share a border and are linked by the USMCA trade agreement. Less noticed, however, is the behind-the-scenes role that China plays in supplying the components and materials for these other countries’ exports to the United States. Most of Vietnam’s increased exports were in product lines where U.S. imports from China fell, such as computer accessories and telecommunication equipment. China’s exports to Vietnam have more than doubled since 2017, and its trade surplus nearly tripled by 2022. China’s exports to Mexico increased by nearly 30 percent last year, on top of a 50 percent increase in 2021. China may be exporting less to the United States directly, but it is now indirectly exporting more. This explains why China’s share of global manufacturing production has continued to increase from 26 percent in 2017 to 31 percent in 2021. As for U.S. exports, the total averaged about $1.5 trillion from 2017 to 2020 but then jumped to $1.9 trillion in 2022. But this increase was not in manufactured goods but in exports of energy products and chemicals to Europe, spurred by the Ukraine crisis. The trade war did little to expand U.S. exports to China, the share of which fell from 8.4 percent in 2017 to 7.5 percent in 2022. Costs and benefits of decoupling According to one study, U.S. firms were handicapped by tariff-related higher costs of their imported inputs, and coupled with China’s retaliatory tariffs, this resulted in U.S. exports to China being 23 percent lower than they would have been in the absence of the trade war. The consequence is that America’s trade war policies generated very little growth in exports of manufactured products, despite the priority given to those policies by both the Trump and Biden administrations. If the purpose of the U.S. punitive actions toward China was to weaken China economically, there is no clear evidence of that happening. By developing alternative export markets and tapping pandemic-driven demand in the West for manufactured goods, China pushed its share of global exports to record levels in recent years. Meanwhile, China’s imports as a share of its GDP have been declining steadily, from a high of 28 percent in the early 2000s to 17 percent in 2022. One could argue that the world has become more dependent on China in trade while China has become less dependent on the world. The benefits of decoupling—if any—should be weighed against the costs imposed on U.S. consumers and producers and damage done to the export competitiveness of U.S. firms. To counter such tendencies, the Biden administration is promoting domestic manufacturing with subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act. Such actions can be justified for strategic reasons, but the rationale is weakened by protectionist Buy America conditions. U.S. policymakers often counter by pointing to China’s use of subsidies to promote strategic industries, but Chinese firms were keen to import key technologies and components to ensure that their products were globally competitive on cost and performance grounds. The recent semiconductor and other U.S. restrictions on China’s access to high-tech products are also problematic because these products are “dual use,” with a much larger commercial market relative to military applications. Such restrictions hurt the many U.S. firms that derive significant revenues from selling to China and may contravene World Trade Organization guidelines. The costs of trade-related distortionary policies can be substantial. One oft-cited study estimates that taxpayers end up paying about $250,000 for each job saved in typical Buy America programs. At a broader level, a recent International Monetary Fund study estimates that a combination of U.S. trade and technological decoupling measures could reduce global GDP by some 7 to 12 percent. Ultimately, the problem lies in the lack of clarity on U.S. policy objectives. What does it mean to undercut China, and how will the United States know if it has succeeded? With U.S.-China relations at an all-time low, punitive actions targeting China have become politically popular, even if they have no analytical basis. The reality is that the United States and China have no choice but to continue trading with each other. But with security overriding commercial considerations, the economic interdependence built up over decades is now being reversed, leaving everyone worse off.

Joe Biden holding hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Biden’s ‘de-risk’ from China policy has a few flaws

by Nathaniel Sher

In order to ‘walk, chew gum, and play chess’ at the same time, the US will have to both invest at home and sign more trade deals. A speech late last month by Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, on “Renewing American Economic Leadership” clarified that the administration wants to build resilience to “de-risk” from China. But dealing with Beijing will require more than investing at home. Washington also needs to re-engage in negotiations with China to manage difficulties in the bilateral relationship. And to better compete, the United States should get back into the business of signing trade deals. As Trade Representative Katherine Tai quipped during her 2021 confirmation hearing, the United States can “walk, chew gum, and play chess” at the same time. The Biden administration should not only invest in domestic resilience, but also participate in new trade agreements and negotiate directly with Beijing. Over the past two years, China joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), began acceding to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), and applied to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). China’s integration into these new frameworks will create efficiencies in its own economy, while binding Beijing closer to the rest of Asia. Meanwhile, the United States does not expect to see the first “real outcomes” from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) until the end of 2023, more than one year after its announcement. IPEF, moreover, lacks the market-access agreements characteristic of other, more substantive economic agreements. It is not surprising, then, that the 2023 Lowy Institute Asia Power Index ranks China 100 out of 100 on its “economic diplomacy” index, while the United States receives a ranking of only 34.6. The 2023 State of Southeast Asia survey similarly shows that only 21.9 percent of respondents view the United States as a leader in championing free trade, down from 30.1 percent in 2022. To be fair, Beijing has significant ground to cover before its markets become as free and as open as those in the United States. What many trade partners care about, however, is not where China and the United States have been, but where they are going. To many, it appears as if Washington is turning inward while Beijing continues to open its markets. This leads to the second error in Jake Sullivan’s “new consensus” on international economic policy. He expresses fatalism about China’s economic trajectory without giving credence to the possibility that China may change, or that the United States can play a role in influencing Beijing’s behavior. Sullivan explains, when “President Biden came into office, we had to contend with the reality that a large non-market economy had been integrated into the international economic order in a way that posed considerable challenges.” In response, Sullivan focuses on building domestic “resilience” and “capacity” to reduce America’s dependence on China. Washington appears to have given up on addressing the non-market practices contributing to U.S. dependence on China in the first place, including state subsidies and dumping. The administration also seems to have forgotten that access to low-priced imports is an important factor in the competitiveness of U.S. firms and the standard of living of American consumers. Fatalism about China’s trajectory tracks with the Biden administration’s overall Indo-Pacific Strategy, which does not seek to “change the PRC but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates.” Fortunately, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has bucked the trend by stating that she hopes to “engage” with Beijing “in an important and substantive dialogue on economic issues.” Not trying to influence Beijing, on the other hand, would give up an essential element of any effective China policy. Of course, prior negotiations were by no means unqualified successes. The Trump administration’s “phase one” trade deal largely failed to change Beijing’s behavior, in part, because the bilateral purchase agreements effectively, as Yukon Huang and Jeremy Smith of the Carnegie  Endowment for International Peace put it, “prescribed state-managed trade over market forces.” Other negotiations, however, have seen more success. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was able to persuade Beijing to revalue its currency by more than 20 percent in the late 2000s, helping to level the trade relationship. China’s WTO accession negotiations also moved the needle on the country’s economic policy. While Beijing failed to carry out many of its WTO commitments, China did reform key aspects of its economy and, notably, slashed its average tariff level from 15.3 percent in 2001 to 9.8 percent over the next decade. U.S. policymakers should learn the lessons of past negotiations rather than standing by as U.S.-China economic relations deteriorate further. One way to pressure Beijing to continue along the path of reform and opening up would be to carry out negotiations in concert with U.S. friends and allies. The Trump administration gave up significant leverage by dealing with Beijing bilaterally, outside the parameters of the international trade system. Plurilateral negotiations with U.S. partners — many of whom share U.S. grievances — may be more effective at convincing China to change course. The consequences of not having an effective economic dialogue with Beijing will become more apparent over time. Despite Washington’s wishes, China is simply not going away. Beijing will continue to join new trade agreements and integrate itself deeper into the global economy, even as the United States focuses on building resilience at home.

Chinese diplomats meeting with US representatives

Where is US’s China policy headed?

by Manoj Joshi

The escalating geopolitical competition has placed the US and China at odds. Both sides need to stabilise their relationship given the role they play in world affairs. US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, met for over eight hours over two days last week with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission, Wang Yi, in Vienna. The meeting, which had not been publicised by either side before the talks, has been seen as a part of an effort by both countries to stabilise their relationship which is perhaps at its lowest level in recent decades. Both sides have been locked in a steadily escalating geopolitical competition, even as they have close and intense economic linkages and a joint interest in dealing with several global and regional affairs. They are locked in opposing sides on issues like Ukraine and Taiwan, and a slow-motion decoupling as US companies diversify away from China and earnings of US companies in China are falling. Both sides used identical language to describe the outcome of the meeting. A White House readout noted that the talks featured “candid, substantive and constructive discussions on key issues of US-China bilateral relationship, global security matters, Ukraine and Taiwan. A Chinese readout used the same terms “candid, in-depth, substantive and constructive discussions” on ways to “remove obstacles in the US-China relationship and stabilise the relationship from deterioration.” Wang laid out the Chinese position on Taiwan, Ukraine and other regional issues. Speaking on background, a US official said that both sides saw the balloon incident as being “unfortunate” and were now looking to “re-establish standard, normal channels of communications.” Two days before the Sullivan-Wang meeting, US Ambassador Nicholas Burns met China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing. According to Qin, a series of “erroneous words and deeds” by the US had put the relationship between the two powers on “ ice” but stabilising ties was the top priority for both countries. Burns said that he and Qin had discussed “challenges in the US-China relationship” and the necessity of “stabilising ties.” The US is in a delicate balancing act with regard to its China policy. In recent years, American policy has shifted from engagement to competition and even containment. In the wake of the US-China trade war, and the first wave of US technology restrictions on Chinese firms like Huawei, there was talk of a “decoupling” of the two economies. The Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong and the post-Pelosi visit tensions over Taiwan have deepened the divide between the world’s two foremost powers. In 2021, Biden had told Xi of the need “to establish some common-sense guardrails” to ensure that the two do not get into an inadvertent conflict. Last November following their summit meeting in Bali, Biden said that “I am not looking for conflict, I’m looking to manage this competition responsibly” At the meeting, Xi called Taiwan “the first red line” that must not be crossed in China-US relations. This was to be followed by a visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing, but that was called off last minute because of the balloon episode. Blinken met Wang at the Munich Security Conference later in February, but there was little forward movement. It may be recalled that last October, the US government put in place extensive new restrictions on China’s access to advanced semiconductors and the equipment used to make them. These restrictions were layered upon earlier decisions to restrict semiconductors to entities like Huawei and ZTE. Earlier this year, the US further tightened restrictions on the export of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China. It coordinated with the governments of the Netherlands and Japan to tighten the guidelines. More recently, it has made it clear that it will restrict the actions of chipmakers who get funds under the CHIPs and Science Act. These restrictions are part of Washington’s effort to secure the supply of components that are needed for AI and supercomputers, as well as everyday electronics. In March came harsh signals from China. Speaking in March, President Xi Jinping for the first time named the US and said that it was in a policy of “comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us.” The next day, the new Foreign Minister Qin Gang was more explicit. He slammed the US for equating the Ukraine issue with Taiwan and said that the “so-called ‘competition’ by the US is all-round containment and suppression a zero-sum game of life and death.” He warned that if the US “does not hit the brakes and continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation.” In April, senior American officials have been trying to calm the turbulent waters. Last month, speaking at Johns Hopkins University, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that decoupling would be “disastrous” and that US goals relating to national security were not aimed at stifling China. She called for a plan of “constructive engagement” with three elements—national security of the US and its allies; an economic relationship based on “fair” competition; and cooperation on urgent global challenges. The Yellen speech was a comprehensive take on US approaches to China and struck what The New York Times said was a “notably positive tone” after months of tensions between the two countries. A week later, the tenor of her remarks was underscored by the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan at a speech at the Brookings Institution. Sullivan used the term “de-risking”, a term used earlier by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: “We are for de-risking and diversifying, not decoupling,” he noted. Sullivan had earlier described the US policy of technology restrictions on China as creating a “small yard, with a high fence.” Now officials like Blinken, Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin are trying to schedule meetings with their counterparts, but the going has been tough. According to Financial Times, the Chinese are reluctant to have Blinken visit because they were worried that the FBI may release the report based on the salvaged debris of the balloon. As for Austin, the problem is that his newly appointed counterpart General Li Shangfu is under US sanctions since 2018 in relation to Chinese imports of Russian arms when he was serving as a general. The US says that a meeting in third countries would not be affected by the sanctions, but it is unlikely that the Chinese will agree. General Li was appointed defence minister in March. With the tightening of the Western alliance in the wake of the Ukraine war, the US has sought to incorporate the European Union into its China project. Shortly after his three-day visit to China, French President Emmanuel Macron said in reference to Taiwan that Europe should not get caught up in crises “that are not ours”. Europe should try to be the “third pole” in the world order and that the need for Europe’s “strategic autonomy” was now accepted. But Washington points to a 30 March-speech by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen where she said that it was neither viable nor in Europe’s interest to decouple from China, adding “We need to focus on de-risking—not decoupling.” She added in blunt language “The Chinese Communist Party’s clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center.” She added that it was there was a need for European companies to ensure that their “capital, expertise and knowledge are not used to enhance the military and intelligence capabilities of those who are also systemic rivals.” Just how much of the messaging from the US about the China relations is sincere, and how much of it is aimed at reassuring nervous allies who feel that Washington’s policies could have a negative impact on them is not clear. But Washington’s agenda remains clear. Speaking last week in Japan, where she is attending the meeting of G7 finance ministers, Yellen called for “coordinated action” by G7 nations against Chinese use of “economic coercion” against other countries. She also said that Washington has been considering the imposition of additional “narrowly targeted restrictions on outbound investment to China,” and that these have been discussed with other G7 partners. She said these would be targeted at technologies “where there are clear national security implications.” But as of now, it does appear as though the two sides are trying to create what David Ignatius called “a framework for constructive engagement.” There is some optimism arising from the detailed discussions that Sullivan and Wang held in Vienna which, as we note were described by both as “candid” and “constructive”. Both sides perceive the need to stabilise their relationship given the role the two countries play in world affairs. With the US going into election mode, it is not clear how long this period where the two sides are trying to work out a new modus vivendi will last. Engagement with China could become a political liability in the US where, if there is consensus on one issue, it is that of a hardline on China. World and New World Journal does not take positions on policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of World and New World Journal. 

Joe Biden with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

Modi in Washington: A Symbolic Visit for a Substantive Partnership

by Husain Haqqani , Aparna Pande

Officials from the United States and India occasionally have some difficult private conversations about Ukraine and India’s domestic politics. But the official state visit this week by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. will mainly be about showcasing the strength of the two countries’ burgeoning partnership.   Modi and President Joe Biden both need the optics of a visit rich in symbolism to demonstrate the substantive achievements of a relationship based on shared concerns about China and multi-billion dollar deals in technology and defense. Modi wants to highlight his standing as a world leader ahead of the 2024 Indian election. Biden wants to underline that, contrary to the criticism of some, he does have a plan to deal with China’s rise and the U.S. has lined up partners and allies to execute that plan. Indian prime ministers have been regular visitors to Washington D.C. since India’s independence in 1947. But Modi’s visit is only the third time an Indian prime minister will be given official state visit protocol, including a state banquet at the White House on June 22.  The fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint session of Congress, Modi will be the only Indian leader to do so for a second time. Indians will be thrilled by the attention given to their prime minister, and the speeches about shared values and similar strategic vision of the world’s oldest and largest democracies will play well in the Indian media.  But the visit will not be about just pomp and show. Trade in goods and services between India and the U.S. reached $190 billion last year and the U.S. is now India’s largest trading partner. Companies from the two countries have made significant investments across borders and Indian and American enjoy close people-to-people ties. Moreover, the U.S. is keen to “friendshore” with India to deal with the threat America sees in China’s rise, and to ensure supply-chain resilience. This involves shifting the manufacturing of certain critical components from China to friendly countries, especially India. The U.S. is funding Indian technology startups and infrastructure projects from its $200 billion Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) Fund.  India, as the world’s most populous country, represents a large potential market for U.S. companies currently reducing their Chinese presence. When Air India, India’s largest airline, decided to purchase 220 Boeing aircraft in a $34 billion deal, Biden celebrated, saying it “will support over 1 million American jobs across 44 states, and many will not require a four-year college degree.” U.S. aerospace and military industries have wanted a greater share of the Indian market for years.  This January, India and the U.S. announced the launch of the U.S.-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) to the pave the way for “technology value-chain partnerships that would lead to co-development and co-production of high technology products and services in both countries,” in the words of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.  During a recent visit to Delhi by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a defense industrial roadmap was unveiled, reflecting an American willingness to share state-of-the-art technology with India. But India wants to build an indigenous defense industry and is keen on American technology and investment, while the U.S. wants India to stop purchasing military equipment from Russia and buy more from the United States. Historically, that divergence has resulted in announcements that have not always resulted in implementation.  For the Modi visit, the two sides have planned two key defense related deliverables: the purchase by India of 30 General Atomics-manufactured Predator or MQ9B Sea Guardian drones for $3 billion, and an agreement between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to coproduce GE-F414 turbofan engines for India’s indigenous Tejas Mark-2 fighter jet. India and the U.S. have a long way to go before reaching the $500 billion mark in bilateral trade, which experts see as the future potential of the trade relationship. Americans blame India’s default preference for protectionism, reluctance to offer a level playing field to domestic and foreign players, strict digital privacy rules, and historical skepticism towards free and open trade. Indians complain that America is used to allies who are junior partners, not a country that is not an ally and wants to be treated as an equal. India is not alone in that view in an era when several powers want recognition and are showing a preference for economic and technology partnerships, rather than military alliances.  India is not a treaty ally of the United States, but a partner that prides itself on its strategic autonomy and one that has reservations about how it was treated by U.S. officials in the past. The closest equivalent of that in U.S. experience from the Cold War era would be France under the Gaullists. But just as the U.S. overcame its reservations about real or perceived French prickliness in the interest of preserving the Atlantic Alliance, Americans realize the importance of India in their plans for maintaining a rules-based international order.

Dark blue sky with cumulus clouds and yellow rhombic road sign with text New World Order

The World is Changing: Who Will Set the Rules?

by Filippo Fasulo

Pivot to Asia - The Global South is on the march in their attempt to reshape the international system. How will this new order impact the old world? An increasing number of countries from the Global South, especially in Asia, are pushing to redefine the current global order. Three key trends to watch in this attempt to reshape the international system are the (potential) creation of a new economic order, the expansion of the BRICS grouping, and the transformation of China-Russia relationship after the invasion of Ukraine. In this changing international balance, Europe is losing its influence in the Global South, including in Asia. After centuries of global predominance, Europe’s strongest legacy is its role as a major normative power in global affairs. However, this reputation as a rule-setting power is set to change.   Why it matters 1. A (new) economic order. The debate over a “new Washington Consensus” has gained momentum after US national security advisor Jake Sullivan delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution on April 27th. The final communiqué by the G7 countries which met in Hirosahima on May 19-20 is the result of a similar strategic shift within the group, one that implies a move from economic interdependence to economic security. This shift is coupled with a major change in how the G7 intends to deal with emerging economies, such as their rival China and other partners in Asia that might soon become economic competitors in critical technologies. The G7’s sentiment has moved from promoting globalization and open markets to building industrial capacity in critical sectors, while securing existing and creating new strategic supply chains. Europe’s efforts in this context might not be enough: the investments envisaged so far are too little to reverse Europe’s dependency (often on China) in critical sectors. The EU must focus increasingly on diversifying its supply chains through securing access to rising economies in the Indo-Pacific. Here, joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) could represent an opportunity.  2. BRICS+? The BRICS foreign ministers’ summit in June was yet another steppingstone toward enlargement. The countries that expressed a significant interest in joining the grouping are Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan: all these countries sent their representatives to Cape Town. Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia participated virtually. While the membership process might be a long one, the group’s upcoming expansion highlights the Global South’s political will to rise its voice, with a plethora of actors eager and able to leverage the new competition between powers which is shaping up after the Ukraine war. In this framework, Asian countries such as China and India are competing with one another to lead the BRICS.   3. China and the Stans. On May 19, Xi Jinping met in Xi’an with the (leaders of) the five Central Asian “Stan”-countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan). Russia, the region’s traditional kingmaker, was noticeably absent. The meeting kickstarted – for the first time offline – a summit named C+5 and highlighted Beijing’s belief that it can now make deals within the region without Moscow’s supervision. China’s newfound independence in Central Asia and Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing after the war in Ukraine provides new insights the on China-Russia relationship: although the two countries are united by their common desire to contest the US-led world order, the Sino-Russian relation seems increasingly tilted in China’s favor. This instable relationship could result in a stronger Chinese presence in Central Asia.  4. Loss of strategic centrality. Europe does not only risk becoming increasingly peripheral in world affairs, but also losing its bargaining power with the emerging Indo-Pacific economies. On the one hand, the EU needs to diversify its supply chains away from China and likely towards the ASEAN; on the other, the Global South – and by default its Asian members – is more aware of the current strategic window of opportunity to redesign the global balance of power.   Our take We are witnessing rapid changes in the international arena. In the coming months there will be increasing requests to review global norms. Therefore, the leading event will be the upcoming BRICS Summit in August: the meeting will probably certify the process to accept new members. Among the countries that are voicing their desire to reset the rules, some are considered by the West (mainly) as rivals, such as China, and as partners, like India. Therefore, Washington and Brussels cannot simply accept or dismiss their requests. Asia is claiming its century: the integration of this claim for a renewed global order into the current world order has just started. Its most important implications will be on the economic side, namely the redistribution of industrial capacity and trade relation in the context of de-risking from China.  Spotlight: G7  The G7 Hiroshima Summit has sent some clear messages to the rest of the world. The decision to invite President Zelensky to the gathering was a move meant to reinforce the unity of the members regarding the Ukraine invasion in the face of Russia — and China, too. The West has criticized China’s 12-point position paper on the Ukraine war, since it does not call for Russia to abandon occupied territories. The G7 countries have also announced a strengthening of the sanctions, seeking to curb products that could be used by the Russian military. The other important takeaway of the G7 is the joint statement directed at China, which includes a strong criticism of Beijing’s “economic coercion” and invites the PRC to play according to international rules. The G7 have also reiterated their position on divisive topics such as security in the Indo-Pacific and Taiwan, retreating their commitment to preserve peace and stability in the region. Despite the joint statement and the declarations by the leaders on the challenges posed by China, the G7’s stance on Beijing is still a balancing act. While concerned about being overly vulnerable with China, G7 economies and their industrial base remain strongly interconnected with the Asian country and despite calls for “de-risking”, such as cutting China out from some sectors like raw materials, it is impossible at the time.  Experts’ viewsThe implications of China’s activism among the BRICS countries  The next BRICS Summit will take place at a critical juncture for the Global South. Russia is still at war, Brazil has a new administration eager to flex its muscles globally, and China has reached unprecedented influence across the developing world. Since they are all connected by the same desire of multipolarity away from US and Western hegemony, it is likely that the BRICS will try to offer a roadmap towards a new international order. This roadmap, however, is far from consensual: will Russia embrace the peace dialogues offered by Brazil or African nations – and what role will China play in brokering any such proposal? Will China and the other BRICS be able to cooperate economically to promote development worldwide? Are the BRICS ready for its first enlargement, and who is most likely to join in the coming years? This arrangement will require some mutual concessions and the outcome will help shape the future world order.  Guilherme Casarões, Fundação Getulio Vargas  The push to strengthen and even expand the BRICS, especially by China, should be viewed more broadly through the lens of a pragmatic Chinese foreign policy. It has not only sought to strengthen ties within BRICS but with other regions and countries who are instrumental for its trade and infrastructure connectivity imperatives.  This happens against the backdrop of a shift towards a multipolar world order with China as a rising power and rising geo-political tensions. Given that this bloc advocates for issues that are relevant to the Global South (global governance reform, support for a rules-based international order and multilateralism in times when countries retreat to unilateral measures), it is no surprise that other countries in the South wish to join. Regarding this summit, I see no major implications for the bloc, the core business of the BRICS will continue with South Africa advancing its five priority areas. However, we can anticipate a discussion on its formal expansion. Trading with local currency seems to have found new impetus following the sanctions placed on Russia. All this notwithstanding, it is important to note that the ‘de-dollarisation’ in trade debate is not a new concept for BRICS and its less about challenging the dollar but strengthening other currencies against external economic shocks. The real test is for the host country depending on whether President Putin attends the heads of state summit in August, given Pretoria’s obligations under the Rome Statute and domestic law.  Luanda Mpungose, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)  China’s push for a stronger BRICS on the global stage is advancing along a number of trajectories. Firstly, there is the BRICS expansion as well as the BRICS+ format that are likely to bring the majority of the Global South into BRICS-related platforms of economic cooperation. The implementation of the BRICS+ format may serve as a precursor for liberalizing trade across the Global South and exploiting the potential for boosting South-South trade and investment ties. The expansion in the membership of the Shanghai-based New Development Bank as well as the creation of its regional centers will increase the scope for connectivity projects across the developing world. There is also the greater use of national currencies (most notably the yuan) via de-dollarization as well as the R5 BRICS common currency project that if launched would mark a key transformation of the global financial system.  Yaroslav Lissovolik, BRICS+ Analytics   What and Where Thailand is ready to Move Forward   The May elections in Thailand resulted in a clear victory for the opposition parties. Led by Pita Limjaroenrat, Move Forward has won 152 seats, becoming the most voted party in the elections. This party is the heir to Future Forward, which was dissolved by the military government in February 2020, and was born out of the 2020-2021 protests against the army and the monarchy. The second party in the country is the historic Thai opposition party led by the Shinawatra family, the Pheu Thai. However, while the population has expressed its preference, there is no guarantee yet that Move Forward, and the opposition, will govern. Indeed, to be elected Prime Minister, and form a government, Pita will need to win the majority in the bicameral parliament made up of the elected 500 seats in House of Representatives and the 250 seats of the Senate – whose members are handpicked by the military. The Move Forward coalition with Pheu Thai and the other opposition parties so far can count on little more than 310 votes, a long shot from the majority needed to govern. The opposition must garner support among the senators – which generally have little interest in going against the military that put them in power – or among the parties that have yet to declare their allegiance.  Cambodia: Hun Sen is getting rid of the competition ahead of July elections  On the 14 of May, Cambodia’s opposition party – the Candlelight Party – has been disqualified from running in the upcoming July elections by the country’s election commission. The party has allegedly failed to submit the necessary documentation to participate in the electoral race. With the exclusion of the Candlelight Party from the coming elections, the only possible competitor to the ruling Cambodian People’s party (CPP) of PM Hun Sen – who has been in power for 38 years – has been eliminated. This is not the first time that the main opposition party has been cut out of the electoral race. For instance, in the 2017 the Cambodian court, which is heavily colluded with the CPP, dissolved the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) before the 2018 general elections – a party that was given new life when its members created the Candlelight Party. However, the members of the opposition continue to be persecuted by Hun Sen’s forces with many political exponents arrested on charges of treason, assaulted, or forced to leave the country. With the opposition forces largely depleted and the main party banned from running for elections, Hun Sen is likely guaranteed another term.   The United States seeks to expand influence in the Indo-Pacific  Washington took advantage of two key international events to strengthen its strategic position in the region. During the Quad Leaders’ Summit, which took place on the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshima, President Biden, Australia’s PM Albanese, PM Kishida of Japan and PM Modi of India stressed their unity and stated their plans to invest in digital infrastructure in the region. Throughout the meeting they did not mention China directly in their statements, but their references to the country were clear. The Quad expressed concern over the militarization of the region and the use of both economic and military coercion to alter the status quo – a clear reference to Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Another important step for the US to consolidate its position in the region is the announcement of the Supply Chain Agreement under the framework of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). The agreement includes the 14 IPEF partner countries, namely Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. A year following the launch of the IPEF, this agreement is the first practical measure undertaken by the group. The group did not announce any official trade commitments, there is expectation among partners for increased cooperation and monitoring of supply chains fragility. The concrete development is still unclear, but the agreement signals the need for Indo-Pacific countries to avoid supply chain disruption and to minimize their dependence on the region’s main economic player, China.  Semiconductors: China fires back   China has gone on the offensive in competition over the semiconductor sector. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has stated that products by Micron, the US largest memory chip maker, are a “security risk for the information infrastructure supply chain” barring infrastructure operators from buying them. While additional information has yet to be revealed, some negative impacts are expected for Micron even if China and Hong Kong accounted for only 16% of the revenue of the company in 2022. The measure is a retaliation to America’s effort to cut China out from the semiconductor sector and slow the development of its industrial base. Since October 2022, the Biden Administration has imposed strict controls over chips export, followed by the Netherlands and Japan, preventing China from accessing and producing more advanced semiconductors. China’s declaration comes also after the leaders of the G7 grouping released a statement criticizing the country’s economic coercion tactic. After the move from Beijing, Micron fears that their products will be replaced by South Korean competitors, Samsung and SK Hynix, on the Chinese market. In the rising technological row between the US and China, there is also fear that Beijing might choose to put some export controls over other sensitive technologies, such as solar panels – where China dominates the whole supply chain.    TREND: Despite rate hikes, Asian unemployment is faring well (but not for everyone)  In the current context of high inflation and high rates, unemployment has turned out to be one of the main socio-political issues of Asia. With skyrocketing prices hurting businesses and consumers, many central banks in the West have adopted more hawkish monetary policies during the last year. Yet, the soaring cost of money has forced many businesses into a tight spot with concerning consequences on the employment level. Some countries though – like Japan, China, and Indonesia – have made the unorthodox choice to not significantly raise rates during the last year, while others – like South Korea and India – have adopted similar policies to those of the FED and the ECB. However, the results vary. In Japan the unemployment rate has been quite steady at around 2.6% for some time now, but in China the range (5.2-5.7%) was wider, especially due to the uneven nature of the post-Covid economic recovery. Yet, as the economy is slowly returning to normal, Beijing’s unemployment rate is gradually decreasing. Meanwhile Korea has consolidated a positive trend, with the last available figure at 2.5%, but the reforms of the labor market proposed by President Yoon Suk-yeol may cause some issues. The critical indicator though will be youth unemployment. Employment in aging societies, like those of East Asia, will increasingly become a core issue to maintain the viability of existing social welfare programs. So far China has a staggering 20.8% unemployment rate in the 16-24 years old age group which is particularly concerning, as it is the 7.2% recorded in South Korea. Japan is faring quite well but unemployment in the 25-34 years old age bracket has risen since the beginning of the year from 3% to 4%.

Narendra Modi with Secretary Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris

India and Vietnam are partnering with the US to counter China − even as Biden claims that’s not his goal

by Leland Lazarus

This fall, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is slated to lead a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to China. The planned trip, like other recent visits to China by high-ranking U.S. officials, is aimed at improving the relationship between the U.S. and China. Such efforts to ameliorate U.S.-China diplomatic relations come amid growing tensions between the two economic giants. They also run parallel to U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with Indo-Pacific countries to limit Beijing’s influence. Take, for example, President Joe Biden’s September 2023 trips to India for the G20 summit and to Vietnam, where U.S. competition with China was a focus of Biden’s discussions. While he was in Asia, Biden made several agreements in science, technology and supply chain security designed to bolster U.S. relations with India and Vietnam. “I don’t want to contain China,” the president told reporters in Hanoi on Sept. 10, 2023, shortly after meeting with Vietnam’s communist party leader. U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi echoed similar sentiments during an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York City the following day. But even if the U.S.’s stated goal isn’t to limit China’s global influence, its recent agreements with India, Vietnam and other countries may do exactly that. What US-led G20 deals mean for China The U.S. is actively looking for ways to blunt one of China’s best tools of influence: international loans. During the G20 summit Sept. 9-10 in New Delhi, the U.S. pledged to help reform the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to make them more flexible in lending to developing countries to finance renewable energy, climate mitigation and critical infrastructure projects. Biden committed the first US$25 billion to make those reforms possible and secured additional financial pledges from other countries totaling $200 billion in new funding for developing countries over the next decade. The U.S. also signed onto a deal with the European Union, Saudi Arabia and India that will help connect the Middle East, Europe and Asia through rails and ports. Characterizing it as a “real big deal,” Biden said the rail and ports agreement would help stabilize and integrate the Middle East. These plans are aimed at providing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Commonly referred to as BRI, the initiative is China’s international infrastructure loan program. Over the past decade, Chinese government agencies, banks and businesses have loaned more than $1 trillion abroad, and 60% of the recipient countries are now in debt to these Chinese entities. The U.S. and other countries have long criticized BRI as “debt trap diplomacy.” One study suggests that the trillions of dollars in infrastructure loans to countries by the government and quasi-government bodies in China typically lead to debt problems that the borrowing countries can’t manage. As China grapples with a slowing domestic economy, it may become more difficult for Chinese entities to keep shelling out funding for big-ticket overseas projects. The new U.S.-led agreements that come out of the G20 could fill the coming gap. These G20 plans complement existing Western economic initiatives to compete with the BRI, including U.S. trade pacts for the Indo-Pacific region and the Americas, the EU’s Global Gateway and the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. What the US’s agreement with India means for China In their meeting on the sidelines of the G20, Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to deepen collaboration on developing critical and emerging technology, such as quantum computing and space exploration, as well as 5G and 6G telecommunications. This will help India compete with China in the technological arena in the Indo-Pacific. The telecommunications portion of a joint statement by Biden and Modi specifically mentions the U.S.’s Rip and Replace program. It is about helping smaller telecommunications companies rip out technology from Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE and replace them with network equipment from the West that will protect users’ data. The U.S. has banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from its telecommunication networks, deeming those companies national security risks. The U.S. and India’s pledge to support Rip and Replace is a direct counter to China’s telecommunication technology expansion. What the US’s agreement with Vietnam means for China In Vietnam, Biden elevated the bilateral relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, expanding the relationship in everything from economics to education to technology in a country that has long counted China as its top trading partner. The enhanced partnership includes the U.S. providing $2 million to fund teaching labs and training courses for semiconductor assembly, testing and packaging. One company in Arizona and two in California have already pledged to set up semiconductor factories and design centers in Vietnam, and the U.S. artificial intelligence company Nvidia will help Vietnam integrate AI into automotive and health care systems. All these investments will make Vietnam even more attractive to U.S. and Western companies that don’t want China to be the sole source of their supply chain. As Vietnam becomes a key player in the semiconductor market, it will shrink China’s share of the market as well as its regional technological advantage. The U.S. also agreed to provide nearly $9 million to help Vietnam patrol the waters around its borders and beef up port facility security, as well as boost efforts to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, or IUUF. While not explicitly mentioned, China is the target of this initiative; China and Vietnam continue to be at loggerheads over disputed claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and Chinese industrial fishing vessels are the largest culprits of IUUF around the globe. By inking these agreements at the G20 in India and in Vietnam, the U.S. broadened its circle of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific that can help counterbalance China. Along with similar diplomatic accomplishments by Vice President Kamala Harris at the recent ASEAN summit in Indonesia; security partnerships like AUKUS, between the U.S., Australia and the UK, and the Quad, between the U.S., India, Australia and Japan; increased military sales and training to Taiwan; and the recent Camp David meeting Biden held with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. is building partnerships all across Asia. These actions are aimed at restraining China’s political, economic and military might, even if U.S. leaders don’t explicitly say that is their intention. Regardless of rhetoric, actions speak louder than words.

Joe Biden at the airport in China with President Xi Jinping

Can US and China Avoid the Thucydides Trap? The Structural Limits to a US-China Reset

by Dr. Stephen Nagy

The meeting at San Francisco between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping offers a short respite in the broader strategic conflict that both states have been waging since at least 2017. The friends and trade partners of both nations now have an opportunity to employ middle power diplomacy to advocate for their interests and also the moderation of competition. In his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, Graham Allison provided historical examples of when a status quo power met a rising power and whether and why it resulted in war. Unlike his peer John Mearsheimer, author of the Tragedy of Great Power Politics, who concludes that competition and conflict between the US and China are inevitable due to the structure of the international system, Allison’s book provides a warning to both the US and China that the decisions they make could be positively or negatively consequential, leaving room for agency to be the final arbiter of the fate of bilateral relations. The pre-APEC meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping was an invitro international relations experiment testing the premises of Allison and Mearsheimer as to whether US-China strategic competition will be shaped by the agency of leaders or the structure of the system. Superficially, the 15 November 2023 meeting allowed for an agreement limiting the precursors of fentanyl coming into the United States and, importantly, reviving regular talks under what is known as the military maritime consultation agreement. These modest but important agreements followed a throng of high-level cabinet visits to Beijing and reciprocal visits by Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, that were meant to stabilise US-China relations. These agreements suggest that leaders in both countries can find diplomatic crosswalks to stabilise the relationship in functional areas. It also intimates that other window of cooperation such as climate change, anti-terrorism, transnational disease prevention, and poverty alleviation may be fertile ground for collaboration if leaders choose to move forward. While the modest takeaways from the meeting in San Francisco underscores that agency does have a role in bilateral relations, we should be realistic that they also reflect the deep structural challenges that exist between the United States and China. Moreover, they also represent the intractable nature of the structural challenges in the relationship, placing friends and allies of the United States and major trading partners of China, such as Australia, Japan, Canada, and Southeast Asian nations, with a difficult quandary: How to balance their economic prosperity and stability through a vibrant and beneficial trade relationship with China while maintaining a strong, comprehensive relationship with the United States as it deepens its strategic competition with China? In the US, there is bipartisan consensus that China represents a challenge to US leadership that needs to be dealt with comprehensively. Under the Biden administration, we have seen a systemic, sequential, and allied-first approach to competing with China. It has brought accolades from friends and allies and, predictably, criticism from China that Biden has not only adopted a continuation of policies towards China from the Trump administration, but that his policies are even more severe. The Biden administration has reinforced and reified its alliance partnerships with South Korea and Japan. It then enhanced its commitment to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and demonstrated substantial leadership in terms of pushing back against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. More recently, the Biden administration forged a new trilateral partnership between South Korea, Japan, and the United States, under the so-called Camp David Principles. It also strengthened the quadrilateral security dialogue and its efforts to provide public goods to the Indo Pacific region. And we’ve gradually seen a more coherent AUKUS strategy that aims to create synergy between the UK, Australia, and the United States in the areas of AI research, quantum computing, hypersonic missiles, cyber, and importantly nuclear power submarines. Last, but not least, the adoption of the Chips Act, limiting the sale of sophisticated semiconductor chips to China and the associated technologies, suggests that the United States is not stepping down from its competition with China, but stepping up in the same way that the United States transformed every aspect of its governance following the 911 attacks. Similarly, there seems to be consensus in the Chinese political elite that the US and its allies are intent on containing China and attenuating its development. Xi Jinping’s 20th Workers Party Report at the 20th Party Congress highlighted the concerns China has about its external environment and advocated for strengthening the PLA to deal with separatist forces and external threats, while consolidating it political, social, economic, and ideological systems. Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the expansion of the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the advocacy of the Global Development/ Security and Civilization Initiatives, China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is aiming to transform itself, its periphery, and the international system such that all are more conducive to China’s core interests, including preserving its political system. These realities suggest that rather than fostering a reset in bilateral relations, what we are seeing is both China and the United States taking a tactical pause in their strategic competition to amass the resources they need to compete successfully in the Mearsheimer world of great power politics and the maximisation of power. In closed-door discussions on China with Japanese, South Koreans, Australians, Canadians, Southeast and South Asians, as well as Europeans, we hear similar refrains: while China represents a “systemic challenge” in the case of the Europeans and NATO, or is a “disruptive power” in the case of Canada, or as Japan writes in its 2022 National Security Strategy, “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan and the peace and stability of the international community,” China is also an important and largely irreplaceable economic partner and essential player in dealing with global challenges such as climate change. The question for friends and allies of the United States is how to balance the increasingly difficult and competitive relationship between China and the United States in a way that ensures that they can continue to have strong economic relationships with China while building resilience into their economies and into their economic relationship, such that the economic weaponization of supply chains and the monopolisation of resources cannot negatively affect trading partners of China. Part of these states’ responses to protect their national interests from the structural realities of Sino-U.S. strategic competition will be a middle power diplomacy that aims to shape the competitive nature of the relationship between the US and China. This will be implemented through coordinating their diplomacy and proactively lobbying, insulating, and investing in rulemaking in the realms of security, trade, and international law alongside their like-minded ally the US, but at times also in opposition to the US. This will require investing in diplomatic resources in both the US and China, in the broader Indo-Pacific region, and at the subnational level to forge strong state to state relations to effectively lobby US policy makers to inculcate the interests of allies and friends of the US in their strategic rivalry with China. Similarly, through forging stronger relations with Chinese provincial leaders though trade and investment, middle powers and stakeholders in the US-China strategic competition may be able to have their interests reflected in a moderation of China’s approach to competition with the US.

President Joe Biden and President Xi shaking hands

Don’t be fooled by Biden and Xi talks − China and the US are enduring rivals rather than engaged partners

by Michael Beckley

There were smiles for the camera, handshakes, warm words and the unveiling of a couple of agreements. But beyond the optics of the first meeting in over a year between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies, not an awful lot had changed: There was nothing to suggest a “reset” in U.S. and China relations that in recent years have been rooted in suspicion and competition. President Joe Biden hinted as much just hours after the face-to-face talks, confirming that he still considered his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, a “dictator.” Beijing hit back, with foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning telling reporters Biden’s remark was “extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation.” As a scholar of U.S.-China relations, I believe the relationship between the two countries can be best described as an “enduring rivalry” – a term used by political scientists to denote two powers that have singled each other out for intense security competition. Examples from history include India and Pakistan, France and England, and the West and the Soviet Union. Over the past two centuries, such rivals have accounted for only 1% of the world’s international relationships but 80% of its wars. History suggest these rivalries last around 40 years and end only when one side loses the ability to compete – or when the two sides ally against a common enemy. Neither scenario looks likely any time soon in regards to China and the U.S. How enduring rivalries end China “is a communist country … based on a form of government totally different than ours,” Biden said after his meeting with Xi. That comment gets to the heart of why diplomacy alone cannot reset the U.S.-China relationship. Washington and Beijing are not rivals due to any misunderstanding that can be sorted out through talks alone. Rather, they are rivals because of the opposite reason: They understand each other only too well and have come to the conclusion that their respective world outlooks cannot be reconciled. The same is true for many of the issues that divide the two countries – they are framed as binary win-lose scenarios. Taiwan can be governed from Taipei or Beijing, but not both. Similarly, the East China and South China seas can be international waters or Chinese territory; Russia can be crippled or supported. For the United States, its Asian alliances are a force for stability; for China, they’re hostile encirclement. And both countries are right in their respective assessments. Diplomacy alone is insufficient to resolve a rivalry. At best, it can help manage it. When the US calls, who picks up? Part of this management of the U.S-China rivalry involves finding areas of agreement that can be committed to. And on Nov. 15, Biden and Xi announced deals over curbing China’s production of the deadly drug fentanyl and the restoring of high-level, military-to-military dialogue between the two countries. But the fentanyl announcement is very similar to the one Xi gave to then-President Donald Trump in 2019. The U.S. administration later accused China of reneging on the agreement. Similarly, committing to restarting high-level dialogue is one thing; following up on it is another. History is dotted with occasions when having an open line between Beijing and Washington hasn’t meant a whole lot in times of crisis. In 2001, when a U.S. surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese jet over Hainan Island, Beijing didn’t pick up the phone. Likewise, during the Tiananmen Square massacre, then-President George H.W. Bush urgently tried to call his counterpart Deng Xiaoping but was unable to get through. Moreover, focusing on what was agreed to in talks also highlights what wasn’t – and is unlikely to ever be – agreed to without a substantial shift in power that forces one side to concede to the other. For example, China wants the U.S. to stop selling arms to Taiwan. But Washington has no intention of doing this, as it knows that this will make the disputed island more vulnerable to Beijing. Washington would like China to end its military displays of strength over the Taiwan Strait; Beijing knows doing so risks seeing Taiwan drift toward independence. American policymakers have long said what they want is China to “change” – by which it means to liberalize its system of governance. But the Chinese Communist Party knows that doing so means self-liquidation – every communist regime that has allowed space for alternative political parties has unraveled. Which is why American attempts to engage China are often met with suspicion in China. As former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin commented, engagement and containment policies have the same aim: to end China’s socialist system. For similar reasons, Xi has shunned attempts by the U.S. to bring China further into the rules-based international order. The Chinese leader saw what happened when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to integrate the Soviet Union into the Western order in the late 1980s – it only hastened the demise of the socialist entity. Instead, Xi calls for a massive military buildup, the reassertion of Chinese Communist Party control and an economic policy based on self-reliance. Actions speak louder … The encouraging words and limited agreements hammered out in the latest meeting between Xi and Biden should also not distract from the actions that continue to push the U.S. and China further apart. China’s show of force in the Taiwan Strait has been sustained for three years now and shows no sign of abating. Meanwhile, Beijing’s navy continues to harass other nations in the South China Sea. Similarly, Biden has continued the U.S. path toward military alliances aimed at countering China’s threat. It recently entered a trilateral agreement between the U.S., Japan and South Korea. And that came two years after the establishment of AUKUS, a security partnership between the the U.S., Australia and the U.K. that has similar aims. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration will continue to tighten the screws on China’s economy through investment restrictions. Biden is well aware that easy flowing money from Wall Street is helping China weather choppier economic waters of late and is keen to turn off the tap. The point of diplomacy This isn’t to say that diplomacy and face-to-face talks are pointless. They do, in fact, serve a number of interests. For both men involved, there is a domestic upside. For Biden, playing nice with China projects the image of a statesman – especially at a time when, due to U.S. positions on Ukraine and the Middle East, he is facing accusations from the political left of being a “warmonger.” And encouraging Beijing to tread softly during the U.S. election year may blunt a potential line of attack from Republicans that the administration’s China policy is not working. Meanwhile, Xi is able to showcase his own diplomatic skills and present China as an alternative superpower to the U.S. and to potentially cleave the Western business community – and perhaps even major European nations – from what he would see as the U.S. anti-China coalition. Moreover, summits like the one in San Francisco signal that both the U.S. and China are jointly committed to at least keep talking, helping ensure that a rocky relationship doesn’t descend into anything more belligerent – even it that doesn’t make them any friendlier.

China and the USA wrestle over Taiwan

When Giants Wrestle: The End of Another Round of Tensions Between the United States and China?

by Ofir Dayan , Shahar Eilam

How are the fluctuating tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan expected to affect Israel? On January 13, William Lai, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was elected president of Taiwan. A few days earlier, for the first time in four years, the United States-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks took place in Washington, marking the end of a prolonged round of tension between the two powers, which had peaked in August 2022 when the speaker of the US House of Representatives visited Taiwan. Taiwan is a major point of friction in the already tense relations between the two powers. Managing the disagreements between them has broad implications, including for Israel. The ongoing strategic rivalry between the two superpowers—the United States and China—is the most important geostrategic factor of our time. The two countries are vying for technological dominance and control over resources, that will shape our future, and infrastructure that is critical for civilian, economic, and military purposes. The United States and China are also competing for global influence by forming partnerships and trying to influence world order, including its values, institutions, and mechanisms that regulate it. Can they shape the rules of the competition between them without spiraling into a military conflict that would have devastating global consequences? Taiwan may be the most volatile flashpoint in the complicated relationship between the two powers. For China, the “reunification” with Taiwan is one of its “core interests”—a top objective and a flagship issue in its foreign policy. Although the United States has repeatedly declared that it is committed to the “one China” policy, it is also an ally of Taiwan. The United States has warned China to refrain from making unilateral, aggressive moves vis-à-vis Taiwan, while supplying Taiwan with military resources to deter China and prevent a forceful takeover. Since assuming power in 2013, President Xi Jinping of China has repeatedly emphasized Taiwan’s unification with China as a key objective. During a meeting with President Joe Biden in November 2023, President Xi said that China “prefers” a peaceful unification, but he did not dismiss the use of force. On the eve of Taiwan’s 2024 elections, President Xi further stated that unification is “inevitable.” The tensions between the powers over Taiwan had escalated following the previous elections on the island in 2020. During this period, senior American officials visited Taiwan, and the United States and Taiwan signed weapons deals in August and September of that year, followed by a marked increase in Chinese military aircraft penetrating the island’s air defense identification zone and crossing the “midline” between the island and mainland China. China’s perception of encirclement was further heightened by the United States’ strengthening of its alliances and initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region (such as QUAD, AUKUS, and IPEF) and by the increased diplomatic pressure exerted on China, through boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics and protesting its human rights record. But even during this period, despite rising tensions, the two nations maintained ongoing communications, including the Alaska talks in March 2021—although they were notably tense—and the meeting between the presidents in November of that year. The tension peaked in April 2022, when then Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to visit Taiwan. China strongly protested, and the White House even recommended Pelosi to reconsider her visit due to concerns about potential military escalation. Pelosi refused and proceeded with her visit in August, delivering a speech at the Taiwanese legislature and advocating for increased American–Taiwanese cooperation. In an article published in the United States before her visit, Pelosi wrote that “at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy . . . it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.”   In response to Pelosi’s visit, China held a large-scale military exercise that disrupted air and maritime traffic in the region and released a white paper emphasizing “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.” Furthermore, as a countermeasure to Pelosi’s visit, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was suspending all dialogue and cooperation with the United States, including dialogues between the military commands, the ministries of defense (DPCT), and the maritime military coordination (MMCA), and cooperation in the fields of illegal immigration, criminal legal assistance, transnational crimes, counternarcotics, and climate change. In November 2022, presidents Biden and Xi met in Bali, Indonesia, in an attempt to put the relations between the two powers back on track. After the meeting, the White House issued a statement announcing that the United States will continue to compete actively with China, but the two countries must manage their competition responsibly, without letting it escalate, while maintaining open channels of communication and continuing to cooperate on global issues such as climate change, counternarcotics, debt relief, health, and food security. Regarding Taiwan, the United States reiterated its commitment to the one China policy but strongly opposed China’s aggressive actions, which violate peace and stability in the Strait and in the entire region. The Chinese also released a statement, noting that President Xi highlighted that Taiwan is a core Chinese interest and constitutes a red line that is nonnegotiable in the relations between the two countries. It was anticipated that the year 2023 would begin on a more positive tone, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China in February. The visit was canceled when a Chinese balloon was discovered floating over US territory for a week until the US Air Force intercepted it. Although the White House at first tried to downplay the incident, with President Biden initially referring to it as a “minor breach” and said that the Chinese government was unaware of the issue. China claimed that a weather monitoring and research balloon had strayed off course. Public pressure, however, led the administration to cancel Blinken’s visit. Subsequently, the US Department of Commerce imposed restrictions on six Chinese companies linked to balloon and aviation technologies that are used by the Chinese military, requiring that they receive special approval to access American technology. In April and May, China retaliated at a relatively low bar by imposing sanctions on a US member of Congress who visited Taiwan and sentenced an American citizen living in Hong Kong to life imprisonment, for alleged espionage for the United States. These actions reflect the efforts of both China and the United States to take focused, restrained measures, to avoid escalating tensions. The absence of a strong reaction from China to the establishment of a select committee within the US House of Representatives, focused on examining the US–China strategic competition, suggests that China sought to prevent further escalation of the conflict.   Efforts to end the crisis and restore talks were renewed in May 2023 when the head of the CIA met with his Chinese “counterparts.” In June, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La conference in Singapore. Secretary of State Blinken’s anticipated visit to China took place later that month. In July, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen traveled to China, followed by a visit of US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in August. These high-level meetings concluded on a note of cautious optimism, with both sides acknowledging “progress” but not a “solution,” as the purpose of the meetings was to stabilize relations rather than to resolve the issues in dispute. In September 2023, Secretary of the Treasury Yellen and Chinese Finance Minister He Lifeng launched two new working groups on economic and financial issues. Moreover, Pentagon officials and their Chinese counterparts met and discussed the US Department of Defense’s cyber strategy, followed by a meeting of the American and Chinese presidents in San Francisco in November. The American efforts to renew the military dialogue between the two countries was initially met with refusal by China until December, when General Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Liu Zhenli. In early January 2024, a few days before the elections in Taiwan, the annual Defense Policy Coordination Talks between the two countries were held at the Pentagon for the first time in four years. These developments reflect China’s acute sensitivity toward the Taiwan issue and its willingness to take significant measures against perceived violations of its One China Policy, especially by the United States. Despite numerous disputes, the growing rivalry between them, the defiant measures, and the reciprocal sanctions, these events highlight that the two powers recognize the importance of keeping channels of communication open. This dialogue is crucial for pursuing shared interests, resolving disputes, and minimizing the risk of military escalation that could have far-reaching consequences for both nations as well as the global community. The ongoing tension between the United States and China over Taiwan also has implications for Israel. First, the increasing friction between the powers has accelerated the formation of two opposing camps and has limited Israel’s ability to maneuver between them. As demonstrated (again) since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, the United States is Israel’s greatest friend and its most important strategic ally. While China is an important economic partner of Israel, its policy is not that of a friend, and its oppositional stance toward Israel has the potential to cause significant damage. The United States expects its allies to stand by its side and to align more closely with its policies vis-à-vis China, especially concerning advanced technologies and critical infrastructure. Failing to meet US expectations could strain US–Israel relations. Second, a military escalation between the United States and China would also have global economic consequences, seriously disrupting supply chains of raw materials and essential goods crucial to Israel. Finally, the US administration recently linked the military aid granted to Israel to that of both Taiwan and Ukraine, framing them as three democracies under threat. While this linkage underscores the US commitment to its allies, it also creates constraints and interdependencies. The attention and resources that the United States currently allocates to Israel and to the broader challenges in the Middle East could be compromised if the United States faces serious military crises elsewhere in the world, and this could have far-reaching impacts on Israel.