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Foreign Policy

A Pattern of Confrontation

Jun 06, 2023

(The following article is a translation of a May 22, 2023 editorial that appeared in Lianhe Zaobao, the largest Chinese language newspaper in Singapore.)

The G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, adopted a new proposal to address “economic coercion” and vowing to thwart attempts to “weaponize” trade and supply chains. Though no name was given, it clearly targeted China. By inviting like-minded countries and organizations — and even holding the Quad summit on the sidelines and exploring the formulation of “reliable” supply chains — the event showed an obvious intent to isolate China in economy and trade.

Judging from Beijing’s strong reaction to the summit, the pattern of confrontation has been further reinforced between China and the West. With the dividends of post-Cold War peace fully expended, the world has entered a new geopolitical era.

Coping with China was the main thread running through this grand Western reunion, dominated by the United States and facilitated by Japan. From isolating China in economy and trade under the pretext of “economic coercion,” to attempting to form new supply chains that exclude China and continuing to pressure China over the Russia-Ukraine war, the Washington-directed major geopolitical drama is unfolding its second act following military deployment.

Before this, on grounds of deterring Beijing from unilaterally changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S., behind the scenes, has managed to make Japan and the Republic of Korea bury the hatchet and build a trilateral regime of military cooperation. It has persuaded the Philippines to open more military bases to U.S. troops, encouraged Australia to intervene in affairs in the South China Sea, even in the Taiwan Strait, and led European allies, including NATO countries, to pay attention to Taiwan’s security. American military deployment against China had been largely completed.

Echoing the G7 summit’s new proposal to fight “economic coercion,” the Quad summit reached a consensus on building reliable supply chains to reduce dependence on China and to prevent critical technologies from being transferred into military fields. The U.S. successfully persuaded allies and partners to restrict exports of cutting-edge semiconductors to China, taking advantage of the opportunity to highlight Taiwan’s significance in high-end chip manufacturing, and it accentuated the necessity and legitimacy of intervention for maintaining the peaceful status quo of the Taiwan Strait. This means that the reunification of the Chinese people — the mainland’s core cause — as well as its diplomatic situation face the most severe challenges they’ve seen since the beginning of reform and opening-up nearly a half-century ago.

On one hand, China’s technology development strategy has, by and large, come to an end under the banner of “de-risking” and fighting “economic coercion.” Various forms of technological and economic decoupling may accelerate as the country’s efforts to ascend to the higher-value end of the supply manufacturing chains will inevitably run into greater resistance.

On the other hand, the current trend in which the Taiwan question is internationalized can be seen gaining momentum. Not only have Japan and the Republic of Korea made open policy statements on peace in the Taiwan Strait but even the EU and NATO have begun to step in. That Beijing hosted a summit of five Central Asian nations about the same time in Xi’an was more or less meant to offset the tremendous diplomatic pressure from the Hiroshima summit. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s resolute opposition to the Hiroshima summit communique showed that Beijing recognized the severity of the situation.

As a result of the G7 proposal, the global consequences of U.S.-China competition are gradually showing its future profile. Unlike what some observers identify as deglobalization, the future envisioned by the new proposal is more about reducing China’s participation. All-around decoupling in the economy and trade would be too difficult and too costly for the West, yet reducing dependence on China in critical areas, while at the same time imposing restrictions on China’s access to advanced Western technologies, are relatively more achievable goals. In other words, globalization is no longer working under the previous hypothesis of “maximum benefits” but is now running on the premise of “guaranteeing national security.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s surprise presence at the summit, where he met with multiple national leaders (of particular note his first with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had yet to express opposition to the Russian war against Ukraine) indicates that the Hiroshima summit meetings were also planning arrangements for the next phase of the war. It is worth pondering the fact that Modi continued to avoid using the word “war,” even as he told Zelenskyy that he and his country would “do whatever is our capacity to resolve this situation.”

In addition to coordinating West with regard to Russia, the summit also took advantage of the occasion to increase pressure on China. The U.S. officially gave the green light for allies to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, which may reverse the comparative strengths on the battlefield. China must now examine and balance its relations with Russia and the West before Ukraine launches its expected major strategic offensive to avoid sinking into serious international isolation once the battlefield situation changes.

The Hiroshima summit clearly showed that the pattern of China-West confrontation is being reinforced and that the very nature of globalization has changed. In this new round of grand strategic transition, with the substitution of premises about economic cooperation, significant readjustments in global supply chains are unavoidable. In a future where national security takes precedence, countries of all sizes must adjust and adapt to mitigate the pressure on them to take sides.

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