In a number of webinars and online forums I have been attending that tackle US-China relations, the general American sentiment on China’s unfair trade practices against the US, its increasing belligerence and its aggressive actions in the Asia-Pacific region have been fueling the negative ill feelings, and now even downright anger against the Asian giant with the spread of COVID-19.
US-China relations seemed to be spiraling downward after the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston over allegations that China’s spying activities have markedly increased in scale and scope over the past few years, with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo bluntly describing the Houston consulate as “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft.”
Days before the closure order, US prosecutors charged two Chinese nationals for engaging in alleged hacking activities against many US companies including attempts to steal information about COVID-19 vaccine research, with accusations that the hackers were backed by the Chinese government.
There is currently a prevailing perception among many nations that the global pandemic could have been avoided had China been more transparent regarding the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. While nobody really knows how the outbreak really started and whether the virus was lab-manufactured or not, the fact is information was not immediately disclosed by the Chinese.
The impact of COVID-19 on the global economy has been staggering, with projections that it could result in the largest contractions not seen since World War II. No doubt the effects of the economic downturn will be felt for a very long time as people all over the world are suffering and reeling from job losses while many industries continue to be shuttered. Majority of Americans are squarely blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic – fueling racial hatred against other Asians mistaken to be Chinese – with “virus fatigue” coming into play as the number of infections continue to rise all across the United States.
In what is perceived to be a retaliatory move, China announced that it is revoking the license of the US consulate in Chengdu and ordered the US to cease its operations. However, statements coming from China’s Foreign Ministry that “the current situation between China and the US is something the Chinese side does not want to see” indicate that the Chinese are also careful not to further aggravate the tension.
Analysts say Chinese officials also do not want to see US-China relations deteriorate even more since it could leave China “even more isolated” at a time when it is also “clashing with India, Britain, Canada Australia and many other countries” considering that the Chinese economy, like the rest of the world, is also reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s “lone wolf warrior” attitude is increasingly isolating it and leaving it “friendless” among democratic nations with global weight and influence who are becoming deeply concerned at China’s aggressive actions.
More countries are speaking out against the passage of the controversial National Security Law in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Even civil society coalitions are pressuring major brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang over allegations of “forced labor” involving the Uighurs. China’s expansionist actions in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region is also giving rise to a “concerted pushback” from many nations.
In his speech at the Richard Nixon Library in California, Secretary Pompeo called on “free nations” to rise against Chinese “tyranny,” saying China has bit the “international hands” that fed it by resurrecting its failing economy. “Whatever the reason, today China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else,” Secretary Pompeo said.
Clearly, we are caught in the middle of all this tension between two giant nations, and like most countries in Asia, we also recognize that China is our neighbor and fully aware we need to have good relations. While we obviously do not want to be caught in the crossfire, so to speak, we also need to maintain our relationship with Western nations especially a major ally like the United States – most especially during these difficult challenging times.
I’m still dumbfounded why China had to resort to aggression as it could have leveraged its economic power to become a global influence without triggering hostility from other nations. Over the years, it has grown into an economic powerhouse, becoming the world’s second largest economy. Instead of military might, it could have used soft power to become a global player and gain the respect of all the major powers.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative gave it an opportunity to expand its economic and geopolitical presence, and enhance its global connectivity. Even with the Philippines, China could have leveraged its economic power instead of resorting to provocative moves such as occupying OUR Scarborough Shoal.
History has shown that countries that resort to military might in order to dominate others lose out in the end. Japan engaged in a war – with disastrous results. After the war, Japan worked hard to make itself an economic powerhouse and became so wealthy that when the US experienced recession in the 1990s, Japanese companies bought US properties such as Pebble Beach and the Rockefeller Center. Japan in that sense was able to “invade” the US without resorting to military power.
Certainly, one must learn from history and the lessons from the past. One can effectively use economic power and exert influence without having to wield military might. Today, it’s no longer “might is right” – but rather “wealth is might.”
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