The United States seems willing to confront China and Russia simultaneously to counteract the erosion of North American hegemony. The Biden Administration conveys the willingness to implement a more intense line of competition than that of Trump. A particularly complex geopolitical challenge that contradicts Henry Kissinger's advice on the convenience of dividing Beijing from Moscow instead of provoking spaces that favor a common front between the two. The cold-war-minded bid includes trade, defense, science and technology, and issues like Hong Kong and Taiwan like the struggle between autocracy and democracy. A broad as well as severe thematic combo whose escalation can compromise global governance and strategic stability.
A two-headed adversary like China and Russia, permanent veto members of the United Nations Security Council, deserves attention both politically, economically and militarily. They concentrate a geography area of 26.7 million square km (17.1 Russia and 9.6 China) and a population of almost 1600 million (China 1,394 and Russia 141). Both have different advantages in natural resources and technology that can translate into a substantial increase in trade and investment. The two-way trade, of more than US$ 100 billion, could double in the next few years. Russia complements China's energy constraints by owning, for instance, one-fifth of the world's gas reserves and one-eighth of the world's oil.
The sum of the military capabilities of China and Russia is equally significant despite certain American technological advantages in key cutting-edge areas of contemporary warfare. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), US military spending is 38% of the world spending. China, 14%, and Russia, 3.4%. The North American advantage, in another example, appears in the number of military bases in the world. United States has 800 and China has 13. However, China is managing to develop an increasingly widespread navy (with 390 ships, 7 aircraft carriers, 8 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 6 nuclear attack submarines, and a total of 73 conventional submarines) with regular presence even in the Mediterranean Sea and in Antarctica.
Although China is not yet a global superpower with the same reach as the United States, an eventual military alliance with Russia would produce a significant force multiplier effect. Although today they do not have a specific military pact in this regard, there is increasing interaction and cooperation, annual exercises are an example such as the fact that China is a key partner in the Russian arms trade. Together they have the largest nuclear arsenal (Russia 6,375 and China 320, compared to 5,800 in the United States). In land forces, Russia has more than one million active troops and China one and a half million. The United States, meanwhile, a million 400 assets and an additional one and a half million in seven reserve companies.
A step in Washington's renewed strategy regarding China is to expand military alliances with different geographic areas and strengthen regional and global multilateral security frameworks. An example has been the revitalization of the quadrilateral security forum with India, Japan and Australia (Quad) to counter China's influence in the Pacific. The last meeting covered the subject of regional security (free navigation in the South China Sea as well as the nuclear problem of North Korea). Quad also highlighted the willingness to expand joint military exercises. India's participation is key in the forces equation in Asia.
The North Atlantic Organization (NATO) session, in March 2021, highlighted the Alliance's willingness to engage more outside the European theater and in particular in the Pacific region and, among others, at the south of Cape Buena Esperanza. The report titled NATO 2030, United for a New Era, considers Russia the greatest threat to European security and places China in second order. However, following Secretary of State Blinken's speech on China's military advance, the decision to broaden NATO's traditional geographic focus of attention was reaffirmed. America's mega presence in the Alliance means that NATO has combined military spending that exceeds 50% of world spending.
NATO's attention is also focused on the Silk and Belt Road (One Belt One Road, OBOR, with a financing capacity of 40 billion dollars in addition to the 50 thousand already granted), which implies the development of a trade and infrastructure network that will connect Asia with Europe and Africa and, in the future, with Latin America. One Belt includes the construction of roads, railways, and oil and gas pipelines. One Road involves the modernization of sea lanes spanning ports in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Southeast China Sea and eventually the Atlantic on the eastern coast (Africa) and the South Atlantic with a logistics port for the fleet. China deep-sea fishing (Montevideo seems to be one of the options).
The rise of China is the most relevant geostrategic event of the first decades of the 21st century. Any statistics show the degree of importance of Beijing in global governance and in the advisability of maintaining reasonable parameters of peaceful coexistence with China. It has not yet occurred in a bilateral (United States) and multilateral dimension commensurate with the economic and military strength acquired by China. The financial capacity of 4 trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves has positioned it as the main provider of financing on a global scale. The Bank of China makes more loans than the World Bank.
These circumstances, among others, highlight the variety of challenges of the coming decades, including in particular that of international security. The conflictive dynamics and economic and military competition between the United States and China are generating decisive geopolitical structural frameworks. At the moment, there is no strategic appeasement diplomacy. On the other hand, the horizon shows the risk of producing an atmosphere of ideological and economic blocs in the form of fragmented globalization.
Although Eurasia is already looming as an alternative power center of the 21st century, it is likely that it will contaminate other geographical areas and developing countries in particular. For example, the South Atlantic can hardly be isolated from this international security problem and global governance crisis. It is expected that the United States and China will find the convenience of generating strategic trust to unlock the assumption of reciprocal responsibilities at the global level. Such an interdependent world cannot afford to repeat 20th century rivalries. China is not the Soviet Union.
Roberto García Moritán is a career diplomat. He was Undersecretary of Latin American Affairs, Undersecretary of Foreign Policy and Vice Chancellor of Argentina from 2005 to 2009.
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