China bidding war could spark war everyone wants to prevent

Analysis from China Understander: China’s bidding war could start the war everyone wants to prevent.

The United States finds itself in a security dilemma. Republicans are calling for a realignment of engagement in Ukraine and warning of China’s growing influence. In the midst of this debate, Europe needs to reassess its role.

A security policy debate is raging in the US about whether and for how long the US should continue to support Ukraine. Republicans in particular are calling for a rethink of the US Army’s involvement as a whole and for the prospect of withdrawing from Eastern Europe.

They substantiate this claim with a view to the People’s Republic: China, so the argument goes, is much more powerful than Russia today. Every cartridge that is fired in Ukraine is ultimately missed in the confrontation with an increasingly warlike People’s Republic, whose ruler Xi Jinping has started border disputes with all neighbors and is threatening to attack and occupy the democratic island of Taiwan.

Biden has further tightened Trump’s course on China

While the issue of Ukraine has the potential to become a contentious issue between Republicans and Democrats in the 2024 presidential campaign, the two otherwise fractious parties are largely in agreement – at least on the basics – when it comes to China.

But here, too, the Republicans want to set some other accents. The most recent decree by US President Joe Biden, which intends to strictly regulate or even ban investments by American actors in the People’s Republic, does not go far enough for the Republicans.

Biden is “soft” on China. In fact, the Democrat has continued, refined, and tightened the policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who became president on the Republican ticket.

Outbidding competition can trigger wars

The examples of Ukraine and Taiwan as well as Russia and China show that geopolitics and security policy can only be understood through the lens of domestic politics. This harbors the danger that a bipartisan bidding war over who is “tougher on” China will ultimately trigger the very war that both sides supposedly want to prevent.

The assessment that China poses a disproportionately greater threat to the security and prosperity of the USA than Russia is correct. The once great power, now known by some as “Beijing’s gas station” in reference to Xi Jinping’s extensive oil deals with Moscow, is economically and politically insignificant next to the Chinese giant next door.

Should Beijing actually annex Taiwan (or parts of the Philippines or India, as Xi wishes), it would affect all world trade and thus directly affect the economy of the free world. For example, half of the world’s container trade passes through the Strait of Taiwan.

Republicans want more leadership from Europeans

More moderate voices in the Republican Party concede that Europe will not become completely unimportant for the US in the future, but combine this statement with the demand that the European countries show strong leadership in their own neighborhood and organize and implement support for Ukraine largely themselves should.

In terms of form and content, this line of argumentation is not dissimilar to what politically very different US presidents such as Barack Obama and Donald Trump have written in the family book of the European NATO partners: They should finally implement the agreed goal of investing two percent of their gross domestic product in the military invest.

In response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the federal government has announced a special investment of 100 billion euros in the ailing Bundeswehr. The US spends around $900 billion a year on its military.

In view of these very different magnitudes, the fear is not unfounded that it could be years, if not decades, before the Bundeswehr is operational again as it was during the Cold War.

In the capitalist eye, the US is blind

The “pivot to Asia” (“a change of perspective towards Asia”) that Barack Obama spoke of primarily focused on economic opportunities. The prospect of immense profits has blinded Uncle Sam’s capitalist eye to the dangers posed by global supply chains, in which the dictatorship in Beijing plays a crucial role. Whether Washington’s plan for dosed decoupling will work is anything but certain at the moment.

For Europeans, the clock is ticking inexorably towards the point at which Washington will reduce its security guarantees for the Old World to a minimum. Even the re-election of Democrat Joe Biden would not change this general trend.

Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media. He lives in New York and Berlin.

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