US CHINA TRADE WAR – In rapidly changing geopolitics, US is playing strategic game of ‘Wei Chi’ in which Chinese themselves are masters. Game of ‘Wei Chi’ entails moving one’s pawns on a big board(19×19 slots) to encircle the adversary in a manner that it leaves no choice with him but to follow the winner’s directives. Whether in the present Wei Chi US will succeed or not, only time will tell. There would be more moves by the US since we are talking about encirclement of China, which is a rising power and threatens to replace the world order led by the US. The US represents the free market world and China, the state controlled economy.
Till the 19th party Congress of the CPC, President Xi has had nearly free run, both in economic and techno-military terms. President Trump was by and large settled in his Presidency. He had figured out what he needed to do for supporting the goals of America’s supremacy in the world. And that he would do without putting lives of Americans at risk. Resultantly, he has chosen to exercise America’s non-military power, the economy, by ensuring that China does not alter the free market world to a ‘socialistic system with Chinese Characteristics’.
Fact is that every country in the world has gained from globalisation including China. US Administration is of the view that China, in the process of its rise, has violated IPR norms and stolen technologies to make its military more powerful and is now bullying smaller nations in the vicinity and worldwide. US support to Taiwan by opening a credit line for new platforms, USN aircraft carrier visit to Vietnamese port, continuing military exercises with Philippines etc are but some indicators that military pressure on China is only going to increase. Secretary Jim Mattis’s comment at ShangriLa on 2 June 2018 that there would be more consequences if China continues to militarise South China Sea Islands/ Reefs/ Rocks is an indicator. Few days back, US Navy placed an order for ten top of the line destroyers of the Arleigh Burke class. To ensure quick delivery, two shipyards will build 5 destroyers each and supply these ships to USN between 2019-2022. It is evident that US intends to maintain its combat leadership in the Indo-Pacific in the near future.
China’s economic footprint worldwide is accompanied with demographic changes in the targeted countries. China is largest economic partner to over 124 countries. Recently concluded deal of 99 years lease of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka to China (under debt for equity arrangement) has alarmed many countries in the Indo-Pacific. They are reviewing the likely debt consequences and associated demographic change of BRI and MSR. PM Mahathir of Malaysia has halted two such projects. Pakistan wants to do an audit of CPEC financial arrangements. Maldives is soon going to lose its China friendly President. EU is yet to sign any agreement on BRI stating that there needs to be more transparency. David Brewster of Lowy Institute has called this economic and demographic impact ‘colonisation with Chinese Characteristics’. In most of the participating countries there are housing projects which are meant only for Chinese workers and their families. $100 billion proposed forest city in Malaysia was intended to house 700,000 Chinese. African countries already have large number of Chinese settlements; most Chinese want to breathe air of freedom in those countries.
American sanction is not limited to commercial items alone. US has also slapped sanctions on China’s arms sale to Russia. This is unprecedented rebuke of Chinese military which had escaped America’s punitive action in the past. Number of strategic weapon systems were sold by China which would have violated US arms proliferation laws and UN sanctions. China shared nuclear weapon technology with Pakistan in 1980s which was further proliferated to North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya. The missile launchers in North Korea which can launch nuclear weapons on the US had been supplied by China without attracting sanctions, since US wanted to maintain good trade relations. Now it has been brought under sanctions. China’s Director of Weapon Development Department Lt Gen. Li Shangfu has been placed under sanctions. This was result of Chinese purchase of S 400 Air Defence system and Su 35 jets from Russian which comes under the preview of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).
Therefore, the trade war is going to be long lasting since US desires China to alter its processes of doing business with the free world. That is not going to be anytime soon.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff & former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command. Presently, he is Member, Board of Trustees, India Foundation.