US voters are to elect their next head of state on Nov. 3. The main candidates, US President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, and former US vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, held their first televised debate on Sept. 29.
While Trump and Biden crossed swords over some of the issues that Americans are most concerned about, such as the US economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, other countries might be more concerned about anti-China forces taking shape and how the US is likely to continue to lead this trend.
China claims to have embarked on a “peaceful rise,” but that is not how the rest of the world sees it. Beijing keeps making threats, and expanding its power and influence.
Especially under the rule of President Xi Jinping (習近平), China no longer hides its “wolf warrior” ambitions. Its wicked intentions are ever more apparent.
This has not happened overnight. China’s ability to rapidly gain power over the past few years has had a lot to do with longstanding appeasement policies followed by the US and other Western countries, and with their misunderstanding of the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.
For example, the administration of former US president Barack Obama is seen as not having been tough enough on Beijing. Although Obama promoted a strategy of rebalancing the US’ stance toward Asia and sought to cement ties with regional allies by economic means via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the US’ return to Asia failed to keep pace with China’s expansion.
As a result, the US faced the prospect of seeing its international influence supplanted by China.
Since becoming president, Trump has gone back to square one. During his first year as president, relations between Washington and Beijing remained harmonious, and the two presidents visited each other.
However, in March 2018, the Trump administration accused China of stealing intellectual property and commercial secrets, and announced that it would impose tariffs on China’s exports to the US, marking the official start of US-China trade tensions.
From a dispute over trade, the two countries moved on to technology, and have included disputes over military, diplomatic and other issues.
Trump acted unilaterally, so he at first seemed to be out on a limb. Other countries initially chose to wait and see, or to openly disagree with his actions, but the US’ measures against China have hit the mark.
As well as putting pressure on Xi’s regime, the US has set an important example for other countries to follow. Since the US started taking a tougher line toward China, its allies have begun to follow suit.
At last month’s UN General Assembly, many countries appeared to be closing in on China. As well as Trump continuing to say that China should bear responsibility for the spread of COVID-19, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeated his call for countries to “do all we can do” to identify the source of the virus and “prevent it from happening again.”
French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time called for an international mission to be sent to investigate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs.
Even Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in his address to the general assembly challenged China with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying that the 2016 arbitral award on the dispute is “beyond compromise.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her address accused China of “poor and cruel treatment” of minorities and underlined Germany’s deep concern over the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
These countries do not entirely agree with the Trump administration on every international issue, and there might indeed be friction between them, but as they watch the US take the lead in countering China, and with increasing vigor, they have been circling to form a united front.
These countries have not failed to notice the threat that China poses, but might find it difficult to act on their own, out of concern for their own interests or geopolitical considerations.
For example, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said in a recent interview that in their first conversation in November 2016, he told then-US president-elect Trump about the threat that China’s growing military power posed to the Japan-US alliance.
Abe said that China had over the course of almost three decades increased its defense spending by nearly 40 times, adding that “this is not just a problem for Japan, it is also a problem for the US.”
As well as having an influence on Trump’s policy decisions, Abe’s remarks also show how sensitive Japan is to China’s unreasonable expansion.
Since the start of this year, when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world from Wuhan, China, other countries have realized how Beijing has infiltrated the WHO and how it initially concealed the viral outbreak.
This once-in-a-century pandemic has deepened the rift between the US and China, and altered the global landscape.
In the process, more attention is being paid to the strategic value of Taiwan, which is a guardian of democracy and has had great success in fighting the pandemic. This has given Taiwan greater opportunity to cooperate with other countries.
In the course of reorganizing global supply chains, many democratic countries have reflected on how to reduce their dependence on China.
For its part, India has been working toward replacing China in its role as workshop of the world, as well as cooperating more closely with the US in its security strategy.
At this critical time, other countries’ actions will be affected by what the next US president intends to do during his four-year term and the direction that his China policy takes.
In their first election debate, Trump and Biden accused each other of being too soft on China. Observers see this as a rare point of consensus between the two candidates and it reflects the rising anti-China tension in Washington.
The whole world is waiting to see how the next occupant of the White House will put this consensus into practice.
Compared with Obama’s time in office, the US under Trump’s leadership has opened up more space for contending with China. Although Beijing has been temporarily constrained, it has not submitted.
Regardless of whether Trump remains in office or Biden takes over, and whether the US president acts unilaterally or strengthens a coalition of allies, he would need to reflect on how to change China and what the ultimate goal is — is it to see China rid itself of Xi and the CCP, or something else?
On this point, the US could perhaps draw a lesson from the CCP’s way of thinking. At the end of 1948, in the midst of the civil war between the CCP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Mao Zedong (毛澤東), Xi’s idol, invoked the Aesop fable The Farmer and the Snake to say that, regarding the KMT government’s intimations of a peace agreement, the CCP should carry the revolution through to the end and not give up halfway.
Otherwise, Mao said, the farmer who rescued a snake could end up dying from a snake bite.
The same logic could be applied to the US’ leadership of the countries now arrayed against China.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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