China announced, on the last day 24 July, the order for the United States to close the country's consulate in Chengdu, important city with about 4,6 millons of citizens. It was retaliation for closing, by the USA, of the Chinese consulate in Houston. On the eve, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, visiting Yorba Linda, California, he had spoken using harsh rhetoric against the Chinese communist party or the rulers of that country. Ironically, the location of the speech was Richard Nixon's hometown, the American president responsible for the rapprochement of the USA with China in the decade of 1970.
Like this, the two countries step up another step in escalating tensions that have characterized relations between Washington and Beijing, especially in the past two years.
There are several points of friction, since the so-called “trade war”, going through issues involving human rights, accusations of espionage and cyber war, the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, 5G mobile communication technology, the new national security law enacted in China in relation to Hong Kong, the greater Chinese assertiveness towards Taiwan and its growing military presence in the South China Sea, to name only the most relevant.
It has now become commonplace to speak of a "new Cold War", with China taking the place of the former Soviet Union on the pole that antagonizes the USA. As inaccurate as this comparison is, it is true that the escalation of rivalry between the two countries has reached unprecedented levels in the international system since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
However, there is a marked difference. If in the Cold War the spheres of influence of each of the superpowers were practically delimited by the ideological specters that, with capitalists on the one hand and communists on the other, in the current dispute these spheres are not clearly defined.
And this is another important field of dispute, where each of the contenders presents their weapons. On the one hand, China presents itself as a powerful commercial and economic partner, willing to conclude agreements, enter into business and finance infrastructure and economic development projects worldwide, especially in the countries around it, by the Belt and Road Initiative, but also in Africa, in Europe and the Americas. Thereby, while offering valuable development opportunities, ties governments to debts and commitments that guarantee, if not explicit political support, at least the neutrality posture. This was very clear in the Covid-19 crisis. Governments around the world, including from the USA(!), were tied to Chinese suppliers, in an embarrassing dependency, which in many cases prevented governments from speaking out more strongly against the fact that the virus, according to all the evidence, have expanded to the whole world due to several misunderstandings by the Chinese health authorities, especially in the first moments of the pandemic. At the same time, China projects itself with a proactive foreign policy, with massive dissemination of the country's culture, trying to project a more sympathetic image to the west.
On the other hand, the US relies on its unmatched military power to constrain the Chinese to curb their expansionist momentum in the South China Sea, guarantee Taiwan's relative sovereignty, and support its main allies in Asia and Oceania, especially Japan, South Korea and Australia, beyond India, that although it cannot be considered exactly an ally country, is China's great rival in Asia. Besides that, the US seeks to lead Western countries, maintaining its performance in the psychosocial field, reinforcing the narrative of defending democratic and liberal values, denouncing the authoritarianism of the Chinese government and taking a stand in defense of Uighurs and Hong Kong residents.
Beyond the search for allies, each of the two countries is preparing at an accelerated pace in the military field. The Chinese armed forces have undergone major reform in 2015, seeking greater interoperability and modernization. The Navy stands out, modernizing at an impressive pace. The United States has reformulated its military strategy in 2018, clearly defining that the country should prepare for a new phase of competition between great powers, with a special focus on China and Russia, nominally cited. At the same time, created a new Armed Force, the Space Force, to prepare to fight in this area too.
Climbs and stretches, charges and accommodations, disputes and agreements alternate in the management of relations between two global powers. There are countless and enormous interests involved and an escalation of antagonisms that goes out of control is not in the interest of either. But here, Realism imposes itself once again: the conflicting spiral is upward and the chance of something escaping control, bigger and bigger.
Access the speech of the US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompey “Communist China and the Free World´s Future” (23/07/2020) in https://www.state.gov/communist-china-and-the-free-worlds-future/