Saturday June 15, 2024

Repairing ties

By Maheen Shafeeq
July 11, 2023

Since the start of trade wars between the US and China in 2018, the two sides have plunged into a competitive rivalry often quoted as ‘Cold War II’ or ‘New Cold War’ by analysts.

However, unlike the cold war, the two sides are trying to manage their rivalry. Since last year, the two sides have been attempting to resolve their tensions. The US National Security Strategy of October 2022 and the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali in November 2022 marked the turn of events in US-China relations.

Recently, two important meetings between the US and Chinese top officials made the headlines. The first meeting was between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs Commission and member of the Chinese Politburo Wang Yi in Vienna on May 10-11, 2023.

The salient features of the meeting were a constructive and candid discussion over bilateral, regional and global security issues. The purpose of the meeting was to sustain the vital means of strategic communication and build on engagements between US President Biden and Chinese President Xi in Bali in November 2022.

This revealed that despite raging tech and trade competition and challenges in US-China bilateral relations, the two sides intend to lower tensions through dialogue and diplomacy. It is critical to note that the two sides want to continue talks to manage the friction.

The second meeting was between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Wang Yi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in China on June 18-19, 2023. Similar to the previous meeting, the two sides had a candid, substantive and constructive discussion on addressing bilateral, regional and global issues. The purpose of the meeting was to construct the talks further to maintain communication channels and reduce miscalculation risks.

This is significant as during an unexpected crisis, the two sides must have open channels of communication to avoid miscommunication. For the US and China, it could be a crisis across the Taiwan Strait, the Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea, or in China or in areas of bilateral trade policies as observed during trade wars.

While the US remains committed to out-competing China, the two sides have managed to change their rivalry to an under-control competition. During the meeting, US and Chinese officials, despite the competition, wanted to cooperate to address shared transnational challenges such as climate change, food security, public health, global macroeconomic stability and counter-narcotics. Secretary Blinken invited his Chinese counterparts to Washington, and the two sides agreed on further high-level engagements.

Spoilers usually become active and alert to disrupt the process when two opponents are about to mend ways. This was observed when Secretary Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing in February, but the trip was postponed over the weather balloon incident, which was recently refuted as suspected of collecting intelligence. As the two major powers are on the way to building a collaborative environment, there are likely chances that spoilers who are gaining from the US-China rivalry will become active. It will be up to Washington and Beijing to manage relations maturely under such circumstances as they have done recently.

Peace among major powers is important for global stability. Russia’s war in Ukraine is an example of how a regional rivalry of a major power can impact on the global scale.

Similarly, if the US-China competition veers into a conflict, it could be detrimental for international peace and political economy. This will push states to take sides in a multipolar world, accentuating bloc and camp politics. Therefore, the timely measures by the Biden administration to manage the competition is an important tenet of current global peace.

Pakistan and India could draw important lessons from how the US and China manage their rivalry. The Modi government has adopted inflexible and warmongering policies towards Pakistan. Even though the US and China are not in close proximity as Pakistan and India, the two states are working towards developing channels of strategic communication, and efforts are being made to address possible miscalculations.

In contrast, such communication channels between India and Pakistan have been cut off. The two sides are actively building military power with the support of their close allies; inadvertent escalation and miscalculations are inevitable. Pakistan acted maturely during the BrahMos crisis; however, in case of another miscalculated action like it, a befitting response from Pakistan should be expected. As elections in India draw closer (May 2024), miscalculated measures towards Pakistan in order to appease people for votes could be expected as a usual practice of the Modi government.

Although chances of peace remain low under an increasingly hostile and stubborn India, the two sides may attempt to catch the low-hanging fruit and open channels of formal and high-level communication. It is also important that, like the US and China, the two sides note down areas of cooperation, such as climate change, public health, counterterrorism, public health and cross-border trade.

Instead of developing conducive multilateral economic and connectivity structures within the region where it has to survive, India is looking outside the region for economic collaborations, such as BRICS and G20, while negating the SCO platform for regional connectivity.

As neighbouring countries with several historical, cultural and religious linkages, it would be prudent for the Pakistan and India governments to have open communication channels to manage relations cautiously -- like the US and China are doing despite their differences.

The writer is a research analyst in emerging technologies and

international security. She tweets @MaheenShafeeq