China and the United States are competing for global leadership against a background of political skirmishes and military demonstrations. But does China’s new “Silk Road” really represent a challenge to American hegemony? According to analysts, China’s expansion would aim to oust the United States from the Indo-Pacific region, because through this massive project China could reach an ambitious strategic goal: to become the predominant power on the Eurasian continent. It is an economic project, but also a geopolitical one. In fact, Chinese capital that is destined to feed the land and sea routes of this impressive project will not only finance the construction of ports, pipelines, highways and digital networks, but will also have a political impact, consolidating long-term relationships and strengthening other more recent ones.
I refer in particular to the new dialogue initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping with western countries. What is feared is the birth of a new Eurasian center of gravity as a counterweight to US influence in Asia. Obviously, it is still too early to make objective assessments. However, China’s attempt to challenge Washington’s domination remains, through reinforcing the role of the yuan, a currency competing with the dollar, and also focusing on global technological leadership, particularly on the most advanced technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence.
In this technological sector, China has made great progress in recent years, if we consider that in 2016 the Asian country was the world’s second-largest investor in R&D, with an expenditure of about $280 billion, equal to 2.11% of GDP. If we look at the number of patents, China is almost at the level of the United States. It is therefore easy to understand that the duty dispute is mainly driven by the competition for global technological leadership. The objective of Trump is therefore clear: to reduce the power of Beijing before it truly affirms itself as the new political and economic center of gravity of the planet.
For many years the United States has been closely monitoring Chinese initiatives, watching the rapidly growing challenger, China, eroding important spheres of influence even for an already established colossus like America. And in 2018 the US political and commercial counteroffensive began, with the aim of limiting China’s growth. The speed of the actions seems to be a determining factor and, in order to tighten the squeeze as much as possible, the US strategy also aims to involve its closest allies. In this sense, the request to boycott a multinational like Huawei is exemplary. From here an amazing campaign was born, to convince the big telecommunications companies in friendly countries not to use Huawei’s equipment, which it was said could expose them to cyber-espionage risks.
Indeed, the hypothesis of increasing funding for the development of telecommunications in countries that in the future will avoid the equipment produced in China would also have been evaluated. This is the context in which Japan and Australia are included, which are among the main American allies and also the closest, geographically and economically, to China.
Indeed, Australia is already suffering from the interference of the expansion, even the military expansion, of Beijing throughout the Pacific region. As a result, the Australian government has begun to limit Chinese investments on its territory, including by issuing specific bans for security reasons. This includes the prohibition imposed on Huawei to build the country’s 5G network.
“On the same wavelength, the United Kingdom, a historic US ally, recently replaced the Defence Minister Gavin Williamson, who was accused of having questionable relationships with the Chinese multinational, which could have given a green light to the implementation of Huawei’s 5G network in the country.”
However, the war on duties could hide something else. We have seen how the duties imposed on Chinese market exports were undoubtedly the first step in the trade war between Washington and Beijing. It is a tough war, behind which the challenge between the two super-powers is being played for supremacy in the field of advanced technologies. It is a market that, according to experts, will significantly influence the world economy in the coming decades. We are seeing faster connections, and progressively evolved artificial intelligence that is increasingly able to replace man, and will revolutionize not only global economic systems, but also armaments.
This is a rapidly evolving sector, where progress to integrate tanks, submarines and drones already equipped with Artificial Intelligence is making enormous strides. Many governments would certainly be interested in equipping themselves with such technological applications. It is well known that the US wants to invest in improving its combat systems. It, therefore, appears evident that the control of technologies and their development will be decisive for shifting the strategic balances in favor of one or the other of the contenders.
At this point, it is clear that the truce that started during the G20 summit was a flash in the pan. In fact, after the meeting in Buenos Aires during the G20, Donald Trump seems to have resumed the competition, with the explicit goal of blocking the Asian giant as much as possible. This includes the recent rapprochement with North Korea and the relaxation of relations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Everything converges towards a broader and more articulated strategy of containment implemented by the United States against China, made up of several strands, in which there are actions of direct contrast and provocations, such as Trump’s attempt to attract North Korea into its field of influence, which has been historically linked to China, its link to the rest of the world.