China-US cold war imminent as new World Order emerges: Experts

Photo: For Representation Purposes Only.

New Delhi: The new, emerging World Order will witness an economic and a diplomatic cold war between the current global power, the United States, and the rising competitor, China, even as the latter would try to either upstage the former as the leader of international institutions such as the United Nations, or would demand to share the table at the top.

India would have to evolve a clear cut view on how to handle China, may have to align with nations in the Indo-Pacific region facing a similar challenge from Beijing, and form new security architecture to counterbalance the Chinese aggressive behavior.

These views were the consensus arrived at by a group of experts comprising of diplomats, thinkers, academicians and political activists at a webinar ‘The New World Order: Options for China‘ organised jointly by Council for International Economic Understanding (CIEU), Law and Society Alliance (LSA) and Defence.Capital yesterday.

The experts concurred on one global truth: a new coalition of democratic countries opposed to China’s hegemony is in the process of coming together. But they also expressed apprehension on the degree to which this coalition will be able to tame China’s ambitions.

“In July 2018, China took the lead in convening a meeting of Eastern European countries, which it called 16+1, to increase its footprints in these nations as an alternative to the existing bunch of international organisations,” said Mumbai-headquartered Forum for Integrated National Security secretary-general Seshadri Chari.

“This is one option for China to use its economic leverage and it will certainly go ahead on this option. China may also think of taking over the present institutions, like the World Health Organisation or the UN, where it will create rules that benefit itself. To create a win-win situation, China will go ahead with both economic and political options,” he said.

Chari said COVID-19 outbreak has created an unprecedented situation challenging the existing world order. They said COVID-19 is the first global pandemic, whereas all other outbreaks such as Plague or Spanish Flu were localised affairs. Even the Gulf War did not disrupt the global economy and lives of people, in one go, as COVID-19, and there was no global lock down and disruption in the economic activities of nations, he added.

While nations were earlier powerful because of their ability to spend on their military force, in 2020, it is now a nation’s economic power and excess money available to invest in other nations and win over those nations’ allegiance in international institutions.

“China can create a proper atmosphere and work for establishing new, parallel international institutions and become a dominant nation globally by becoming the rule-maker while other nations are rule-followers or it can seek parity with the US in international institutions.”

New Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy chief executive Jayadeva Ranade noted that China’s one-word agenda was ‘global dominance’. He said the tussle for the top slot in the new world order will continue for some time. However, there is a strong anti-China sentiment the world over now, and Beijing has been taking up conflicts — both economic and military — as has been witnessed with Australia and India in recent months, he said.

“What we are witnessing today is a very sharp, no-holds barred contest between the US and China for the Number One spot to guide economic interests and dictate the world order. This strong contest will last for some time. China’s challenge to the US is real, but premature. The country is behaving in a frustrating manner which is both unpredictable and dangerous, but its forward march has been disrupted by COVID-19,” Ranade said.

“Major fault lines have appeared in the Chinese economy after the US stopped exporting vital technical components to its robust manufacturing sector. Unemployment has risen in between 70 million to 80 million in the country following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Though China has a strong grip over South China Sea and the ASEAN, among a few other international organisations, it is also grappling with internal demands for democracy, said Arvind Gupta, former Deputy National Security Adviser of India and Director of New Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation.

“It is suspected that the US will use the strong anti-China sentiment and the recession to create social upheaval in the country. Chinese think tanks have hinted at worries about their country’s stance on Taiwan,” he said.

“The PLA Daily of the Chinese Army recently carried an essay about a high explosive situation in China. The Chinese agenda will now be to get its economic production going, settle anti-China sentiments and to try and settle their differences with the US,” Gupta said.

It was felt by the experts that China, which was able to contain the spread of COVID-19 ahead of other nations, might use the fact to buttress its claim that its own political system is superior to other nations. It might hold up its political system as a model for the rest of the world to follow.

“The international collective of nations will be successful against China’s military strength. There is a prevailing international mood against China. It is an opportunity for other nations to help usher in democracy in that country,” said Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convener, Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

A report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published in April 2020 has projected that China will be the only country, apart from India, which will witness positive economic growth in the current financial year. The discussion also centered around the fact that the Chinese manufacturing sector’s contribution to its overall economy is substantial and will continue to provide leverage to the country over other nations.

“In terms of purchasing power parity, the Chinese economy is at least $5 trillion more than the US economy at present. The main source of China’s economic power is cheap and low-quality production. Even if a vaccine for COVID-19 is found, its mass production will go back to China. The US needs China for medical supplies and the latter will use this to influence its position,” said Prof. Swaran Singh of Centre for International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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