Are USA and China Shifting from a New Cold War to a New Understanding?

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The meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping before to the G-20 Leaders’ Summit on Indonesia’s Bali Island, as well as the remarks delivered at the press conference that followed, have already overshadowed the G-20 Summit. “I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War,” President Biden said of China-US relations, prompting many capitals to wonder, “What did Biden want to say, what is the US trying to accomplish, what is the future of the US-China relations?” Because all the actors know that the course and outcome of the relations between the USA and China will largely determine the name and framework of the new international system and therefore the future of these countries. As a result, reading between the lines in both leaders’ messages is critical.

To repeat, the key phrase here is certainly the “New Cold War.” Biden’s emphasis that this “New Cold War” would not be between China and the US is far more significant. Because there are only two parties in the “New Cold War” because the other actors defending the multipolar world and even waging power struggles with the US are null and void at this time.  As a result, it is good to concentrate on the phrase that confuses and raises many questions.

Biden’s statement that there will not be a “New Cold War” between China and the USA frankly brings to mind the following two questions: “Is the USA not ready for a war with China and trying to buy time?  Or is the US actually delivering the message that it is willing to reach an agreement with China on the establishment of a controlled bipolar system, which directly implies that the US will share power with China and divide the world into spheres of influence?”

In fact, the question of the future between the USA and China has been on the agenda of both countries since 2009. In this context, between 2009 and 2013, the US began to see China as a “solution partner” with which it could act together in regional-global issues. And within this framework, it is seen that they first emphasized the search for a regional cooperation centered on the “Asia-Pacific”, and then they brought up a “New Model Cooperation” targeting beyond the Pacific. As a result, all of these bring attention to the fact that a new era has begun since 2015.

In this light, it is worth noting that the Beijing government, which regards the US’s pursuit of collaboration and the model it has proposed as a weakness, has upped its expectations of Washington, thereby raising the bar. Until the Russia-Ukraine War, it is seen that China has successfully implemented its policy of encouraging anti-US sentiment, isolating and weakening it economically and politically by constructing an “Alliance of Others” through large regional-global projects and soft power policies (such as Belt and Road) and “multipolar” rhetoric. So much so that it achieves successful outcomes not just in the framework of US-Asian powers, but also in the context of US-EU and even US-NATO relations through the discourse of “multipolarity.”

As a result, it is seen that China openly demands from the US for a more “fair” and “new power sharing” in order to increase its global influence, and will not hesitate to resort to military force when necessary. In this context, Chinese President Jinping’s announcement before the G20 Summit that Beijing will expand military training and ready for “any conflict” poses an unmistakable challenge to American unipolarity and hegemony. The emphasis on war, which had previously emerged as an attitude of resolve at the point of China’s red lines (for example, the One-China Policy), is no longer limited with the words “any war.”

As a result, the “China threat,” which has presented itself since Obama’s final term and continued with President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden, is at the core of US foreign policy today. Moscow’s loss of all forms of power as a result of the Russia-Ukraine War, as well as the growth of China in Russia’s spheres of influence, have, honestly, forced Washington to a new assessment of threat and cooperation.  In other words, China’s desire for more from the United States, especially in the Pacific, has prompted Washington, which has never agreed to share its power and spheres of influence with another actor, to pursue a new policy. As a matter of fact, the results of the USA’s new strategy targeting China’s multipolar policy, especially through the Russia-Ukraine War, seem to be influential in President Biden’s last speech.

Of course, it cannot be considered as a coincidence that this statement coincided with Xi Jinping’s indirect messages about building a bipolar world between the USA and China. Therefore, Biden gives the message that he clearly sees China’s determination and can cooperate with it. In response, Xi Jinping’s assertion that China does not want to overturn the present international order, challenge, or replace the United States indicates that “it is ready,” and recalls the 2009-2015 era and a domain sharing agreement.

As a result, the USA has two options against China, which has strengthened its power with the discourse of “multipolarity”, tries to further consolidate this power in terms of spheres of influence and openly declares that it will not hesitate to resort to military force when appropriate. It seems that the US has chosen an option to put on its agenda: an approach based on sharing under the name of “Controlled Bipolarity”. Because the US seems to be far from its goal of “Unipolarity” economically, politically and even militarily and cannot afford an open war with China. Therefore, we are talking about “Cold War 2.0.” The United States, which has stated that it will continue the “Cold War” with China, which has replaced the Soviet Union, has chosen instead to go along with Beijing who protects the status quo against “revisionist forces” that threaten the world with nuclear weapons and violate the current political map in the name of preserving the status quo. While this demonstrates a shared opposition to multipolar world understanding, it is also significant in that it signals to a new sharing process.

So, what is the address of the place they will share? All the indicators are pointing to South Asia for the moment. Looking closely at the most recent regional-global developments, it is projected that the process that began with Myanmar (Burma) will deepen and extend along with other developments. Because neither actor wants another opponent, they are continuing to make advances toward the goal of establishing a controlled bipolar system, which they have agreed to call the “New Cooperation Model.” As a result, this reality underpins the fact that the power struggle in the framework of the US-China relationship is transforming into a share struggle with each passing day. Biden has already said that.

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Born in 1969, Dörtyol-Hatay, Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol graduated from Boğaziçi University (BU), Department of Political Science and International Relations in 1993. After completing his master's degree at BU in 1995, Erol was accepted to the PhD program at BU in the same year. After completing his PhD at Ankara University in 2005, Erol became an associate professor in the field of “International Relations” in 2009 and a professor in 2014. Erol worked at the Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) between 2000 and 2006 and and served as the General Coordinator of ASAM for a period. In 2009, he served as also Founding Chairman and Board Member of the Institute for Strategic Thinking (SDE). He is also the Founding President of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies (USGAM) and the President of the International Relations Institute of the New Türkiye Strategic Research Center (YTSAM). Prof. Erol has also served as the Director of Gazi University Strategic Research Center (GAZISAM). In 2007, Prof. Erol received the “Turkish World Service Award” from the Writers and Artists Foundation of the Turkic World (TÜRKSAV), and has received numerous awards for his academic work and his activities in the media. Some of them can be listed as follows: 2013 “Print Media of the Year Award” by the Association of Contemporary Democrats, 2015 “APM 10th Year Service Award”, “2015 Press-Intellectual of the Year Award” by the Writers' Union of Türkiye (YTB), “2016 Volunteer Ambassadors Media Honor Award” by the Anatolian Village Guards and Martyrs' Families, “2016 Türkiye Honor Award” by the Yoruk Turkmen Federations. Prof. Erol has 15 book studies. The names of some of them are as follows: “The United States of Turks from Dream to Reality”, “Türkiye-EU Relations: Foreign Policy and Internal Structure Problems”, “The New Great Game in Eurasia”, “The Search for Strategy in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Search for Security in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Republic of Türkiye-Russian Federation Relations”, “The Cold Organization of Hot Peace: The New NATO”, “Theoretical Approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis: The Case of Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Crises and Crisis Management: Actors and Case Studies”, “Kazakhstan” and “Current Issues in International Relations”. Since 2002, Prof. Erol, who has carried out radio programs such as “Eurasia Agenda”, “Strategic Perspective”, “Global Perspective”, “Analysis”, “File”, “News Desk”, “The Other Side of the Agenda” on TRT Türkiye's voice and TRT Radio 1 (Ankara Radio), made the programs “Arayış” on TRT INT television between 2004-2007, “Beyond the Border” on Kanal A television between 2007-2010 and “Foreign Policy Agenda” on BBN TÜRK television in 2020-2021. Prof. Erol, whose foreign policy column “Arayış” was published in Milli Gazete between 2012-2018, is consulted for his expertise in numerous national and international media outlets such as television, radio, newspapers, news websites and magazines. Prof. Erol, who also taught at Gazi University Department of International Relations and Ankara University Latin American Studies Center (LAMER) between 2006-2018, has been continuing his academic career as a faculty member at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University Department of International Relations since 2018. Since 2006, Prof. Erol has also taught in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Ufuk University. The main areas of interest and expertise of Prof. Erol and the titles of his courses at the undergraduate, master's and doctoral levels in this area are as follows: “Geopolitics”, “Security”, “Intelligence”, “Crisis Management”, “Current Issues in International Relations”, “Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Russian Foreign Policy”, “US Foreign Policy” and “Central Asia and South Asia”. Prof. Erol, whose articles-evaluations have been published in many journals and newspapers, has been editor of academic journals such as “Eurasia File”, “Strategic Analysis”, “Strategic Thinking”, “Gazi Regional Studies”, “The Journal of SSPS”, “Black Sea Studies”. He is currently in the editorial boards of “Regional Studies,” “International Crisis and Political Research,” “Gazi Academic View”, “Ege University Turkish World Surveys”, “Ankara International Social Sciences”, “Democracy Platform”. Prof. Erol, who has been working as the Founding President of the Ankara Center for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) since 2016, is married and has three children.