Neo-Cold War in the 21st century: US vs China

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In this Neo-Cold War era, global politics is revolving around economic muscle and technological advancements. China has become a potential competitor of the US in the eastern hemisphere squeezing the world out of a unipolar global order in the post-Cold War era (1990s).

The US and Soviet-led Cold War ended in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the same year. This event left the US in the unique position of a regional hegemon in the Western Hemisphere with no competitor in the Eastern Hemisphere, “free to roam” and engage in the affairs of other states. So, the US began to engage itself in global politics under the umbrella of the prestigious international institution, the United Nations, as it has been the largest donor to the UN since its formation after World War II.

The American-led liberal democratic order did remarkable business in the 1990s. However, it failed terribly in the 21st century due to the incident of 9/11 and the US response, mainly the counter-terrorism strategy of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to counter Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups in October 2001. Similarly, Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched by US military forces on March 19, 2003. There were two main objectives: one was to destroy WMD (weapons of mass destruction), and the other was to end the dictatorship of Saddam Hussain in Iraq. More than 7,000 US troops lost their lives in these two wars. According to a Brown University report, GWOT’s estimated cost is $8 trillion.

The regional hegemon kept herself busy with hyper-globalisation, while on the other hand, potential competitors like China got the opportunity to rise.

In the last two decades, Beijing has employed the strategy of peaceful economic rise and gained the status of a rising global power in the Eastern Hemisphere. Under President Hu Jintao (2003-2013), Beijing pursued the goal of peaceful economic development. His foreign policy was aimed at fostering economic relationships and diplomatic ties, especially with developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2013, President Xi Jinping came to power with a new goal for Beijing’s foreign policy. He introduced “Economic Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics.” To achieve its objectives, Beijing has launched many mega-investment projects to engage different countries within and outside the region. Most prominent of all is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the Silk Road.

It was launched in 2013. This ambitious infrastructure project aimed to connect three densely populated regions of the globe: East Asia, Europe, and Africa. Since a decade has passed, BRI has now extended to Latin America. This initiative has played a crucial role in broadening Beijing’s economic and political influence in the above-mentioned areas. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is another example of China’s active participation in global economic and political affairs. In the BRICS summit held in August of this year, the chair declared the agenda of “global south-south cooperation.” Similarly, G77 Plus China is another multilateral forum focused on the development and progress of the global south under Chinese leadership. Its summit held in September of this year, representing 80% of the world’s population, addressed the major concerns of the global south, including climate change, the global economic system, and widening differences over the Russia-Ukraine war. The development of the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) in 2013 is another footstep on this ladder, defining Beijing’s commitment to regional development. Being the largest stakeholder in both AIIB and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), China leads both of these financial institutions.

The USA, the mature player in the global political game, has launched many initiatives to counter China along with its partners. The G7 is an informal grouping of industrialised democracies in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK. The most recent influential act of the G7 is putting unprecedented sanctions on Russia and approving an aid of $100 billion for Ukraine because of the Russia-Ukraine War, which started in February 2022. Build Back Better World (B3W) was launched after the G7’s summit in 2021. Initially, member countries pledged an investment of $600 billion. AUKUS and Quad are other examples of US-led strategic partnerships in the contemporary era. AUKUS consists of Australia, the UK, and the US. Its aim is to maintain deterrence and showcase defence capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, countering China’s influence in the region. Ridiculously, it is known as the “Asia-Pacific NATO Replica.” Quadrilateral Security Group consists of the US, Australia, India, and Japan. The major objective was cooperation in the maritime domain. In 2021, American President Joe Biden convened a virtual session attended by the counterparts of member countries, addressing the COVID-19 vaccination process, climate change, and technological innovations.

In my opinion, the global political structure has gone through a major shift that is from the Uni-polarity of the 1990s to the Bi-polarity in the 21st century. In this bipolar system, the two Regional powers US and China are competing with each other by employing the tool of multilateral formal and informal grouping and alliances that I have mentioned above.

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