By: Mariam Qureshi
The contest for supremacy between the United States and People’s Republic of China has increasingly intensified in the recent years. China has accelerated its efforts for supremacy not only in Asia but across the world under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. The 2021 G7 Summit held in Cornwall, United Kingdom was a stark reminder of how the West stands disputed on the China question. The United States wants to bring together its allies to adopt a hard-line approach towards China, but they remain wary. This ‘cautious’ approach of the West is also reflective of how President Xi is succeeding in making China a major player in the global arena.
China saw Iraq and Afghanistan quagmire, the 2008 financial crisis, the 2016 British vote to exit the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as the US President, and the January 6 riot at the Capitol as events accelerating the decline of the West. This, coupled with China’s efforts of land reclamation in the South China Sea, its launch of the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank reflected on China’s recent moves to counter the US influence in its neighbourhood and the global economy. In particular, China’s massive transnational infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) reflects on its dominating hand in its contest for supremacy against the United States.
During this year’s G7 Summit, President Biden reiterated the challenges China’s rise might pose for the West and tried to bring together the US allies to curb Chinese ambitions. The foremost step was to bring forth a rival plan to counter China’s rapidly expanding BRI Project. The West’s ‘Build Back Better World B3W’ initiative aims to provide the developing countries an alternative and transparent infrastructure partnership which is reflective of West’s values, standards, and way of doing business. The White House elaborated that the project would emphasize on environment-friendly policies, corruption-free and transparent financing terms to help developing countries avoid excessive debt. The United States and its allies aim to bring together the private sector to narrow the $40 trillion required by developing countries for their infrastructure development. The details of how exactly the plan would be executed, the timescale and the extent to which the West would contribute towards the plan remain unclear. Beyond the obvious tussle for power and influence over the developing countries, the B3W aims to supersede BRI to prove that Western values can prevail.
For example, the United States strongly condemns the use of forced labour in the global supply chains, hinting to the human rights abuse in the Chinese Xinjiang Province against the Uyghur Muslims. However, West’s insistence on environmentally-friendly policies and human rights might not be as welcomed by the developing countries as China’s ease of dealing with a single group of builders, financiers and government officials along with a no-questions-asked approach.
Furthermore, the other European countries remain wary of sharing the US hard-line stance on China. The G7 communiqué accepted that the countries are willing to cooperate on a collective approach where Chinese policies “undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy” but only as long as “it is in our mutual interest”. Further, the officials of Germany, Italy, and EU expressed qualms over risking their trade and investment deals with China revealing how the West was unclear on whether to approach China as a friend or foe or an outright security threat.
Thus, reiterating how most of the European countries have now started to digress from United States’ hard-line approach towards China. A week after the Summit, Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to become Germany’s next Chancellor, stressed on how the European Union needs to propel a ‘cautious’ stance towards China as a more aggressive approach to ‘restrain’ it might trigger a new Cold War. He accepted that though China is a competitor and systemic rival because of a diverging ideology, but it is also a partner in efforts to fight climate-change and in trade and investment opportunities. “The 21st century is very different and the prism of how the world looked before 1989 offers limited advice,” he said. “We have a multipolar world [now] with different actors.”
Previously, France much like Germany, were wary of banning Huawei and other Chinese-made networking equipment for fear of retaliation on their investments in China. Similarly, Italy’s inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative back in 2019 further highlights how China has achieved some success to its efforts to build influence in Europe.
A Chinese spokesperson communicated China’s response to the B3W proposal by stating how “the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone”. This reiterated China’s determination to quell the Western monopoly on the world stage and establish for itself a commanding voice in world affairs. The centennial celebrations of the Communist Party of China on July 1st, 2021, marked the achievement of the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. President Xi attributed the rise of modern China to the party and its system and reiterated his determination of expanding China’s sphere of influence by saying that “we will never allow anyone to bully, oppress or subjugate China”.
As China continues to expand its influence in the political and economic spheres of affairs throughout the continents, the western countries are forced to re-evaluate their policy towards China. On one hand, in the age of interconnectedness and globalization, the European countries are unwilling to risk hefty trade deals and investment opportunities with China’s emerging economy. On the other hand, however, United States feels its grip loosening over world affairs and fears a Chinese substitute to the Liberal Order it established in the recent decades. Therefore, it used the G7 Summit as an opportunity to bring together the West against China in a bid to uphold the Western democratic values. However, the Summit was nothing more than a reminder of the fact that there is no consensus on how the West should interact with China. Moving forward, it appears that the disconnect among western countries is likely to ease China’s way towards a steady rise.