China-US competition won’t split the world

By Ling Shengli Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/8 23:03:40

Photo: VCG

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned world leaders at the 2019 UN General Assembly on September 24 of a potential "great fracture," where the globe would be split into two independent and rival systems created by China and the US. The warning by the head of the world body echoes concerns of the international community over the intensifying strategic competition between the two largest economies. In fact, whether Beijing and Washington would slip into a new Cold War or if they could escape the Thucydides' Trap has been frequently discussed in recent years. At a time when links between countries and people over the world are becoming more pertinent, will competition between the two major powers take the world back to the times of division and confrontation?

Debates on whether China-US competition will lead to a split in the Asia-Pacific region have emerged. Some observers believe that with the shrinking power gap between the two countries, competition will intensify and a new Cold War may start. Some US scholars even suspect that deep differences between China and the US may trigger a third world war.

US scholar John Mearsheimer, author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, argues that China's rise is likely to lead to an "intense security competition" with the US, "with considerable potential for war." He believes that most of China's neighbors, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, "will join with the United States to contain China's power," so "China cannot rise peacefully."

Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, believes that a bipolar pattern in the Asia-Pacific region has already been formed, but its architecture is different from the one between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.  

Another point of view is that China-US competition has led to a dualistic framework in the Asia-Pacific region, in which countries rely economically on China but on the US for security. A double-track competition - over economy and security - between the two powers has already started and such a contest is similar to the confrontation between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.  

With China's rising national power and its increasingly positive attitude on global affairs, competition with the US has been regarded as developing beyond the Asia-Pacific region and increasingly becoming global. In particular, competition revolving around the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-US trade disputes seems to have caused a global split.

But in fact, this is not the case. The national strength of China and the US is not enough to form a bipolar structure, and the bilateral relations as well as the two countries' links with other nations cannot be completely cut off. Both cooperation and competition between major powers is rising, and other countries still have many strategic choices.

Some believe the rising China-US competition will lead to a divided world. It is an inference based on power politics. There are many differences between an extrapolated China-US cold war and the US-Soviet Union Cold War.

First, although China and the US differ in ideology, political systems and other fields, this has not become the focus of the two countries' competition. Besides, China is not exporting its ideology. Compared with the US-Soviet Union Cold War, the new Cold War is less ideological and more geopolitical. 

Second, China and the US have close trade relations, while US-Soviet Union trade ties were almost non-existent during the Cold War. Although China and the US have continuous trade disputes, such seesaw battle reflects that the two countries are economically dependent on each other. The decoupling of China and the US is unrealistic.

Third, China and the US are far from being behind the formation of a bipolar world, and other countries do not need to choose sides. 

Most countries in the world have close relations with China and the US, which is in line with their interests. Apparently, most countries do not want China-US competition to divide the world.

In today's world, ties between countries are deepening and the international system cannot be ignored. Although China and the US are the two largest economies, they still cannot dominate global affairs. If the world is divided, China and the US will have to shoulder the responsibility of governing a split international system. This is not what the two countries want. 

Though uncertainty and instability are increasing, the world will not be split. Facing profound changes unseen in a century, China has proposed to build a community of shared future for mankind. The Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank both aim at bringing the world together rather than dividing it. The US, with its "America First" policy has paid less attention to global affairs. 

With varying attitudes, China and the US are not pitted against each other. This precludes the possibility of a global rift amid heightened antagonism. 

The author is secretary-general of the International Security Study Center at China Foreign Affairs University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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