La era de la gran rivalidad

The era of the great rivalry


20 | 01 | 2022


The world is witnessing a tug of war between the United States and China, in which Europe must find its own voice and follow its interests.

In the picture

Cover of Fidel Sendagorta's book 'Estrategias de poder. China, the United States and Europe in the age of great rivalry' (Madrid: Deusto, 2020), 176 pp.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, power shifts have simply accelerated, but these were already pre-existing trends. Fidel Sendagorta, a Spanish diplomat who has served in embassies around the world and until recently held the General Administration Foreign Policy and Security post, concisely analyses the relationship of the United States and Europe with China, the world's rising power.

Unlike other power shifts between powers in the past, China has managed to position itself in a globalised world in a very intelligent way, starting with a huge growth of its Economics, whose enormous size has acquired an important international projection, which in turn has also led to a remarkable political influence. agreement In keeping with its history, China does not seek to export its model, as the Soviet Union did in the past or the United States continues to do, but has an outward-looking view of its neighbours as vassals or tributaries, regardless of the political system by which they are governed. The Cold War was a struggle between two superpowers seeking to spread their ideologies, whereas in this status China does not go to that extreme, as it has a capitalist model and is open for business with foreign countries. In recent decades it has dedicated itself to expanding its economic, commercial and strategic influence in the region and the rest of the world.

An illustration of status is what has come to be known as the 'Thucydides Trap', broadly defined as the tendency towards war when an emerging power threatens the dominant position of an established one. In this case it applies to the rivalry between the US and China, who have embarked on a struggle that alters the global power sharing of recent decades. China is developing its 'Made in China 2025' projects, in which the goal is to make a leap in the quality of manufacturing production, and the New Silk Road, which aims to create an extensive network of infrastructures; with both initiatives it seeks to increase its geopolitical influence. The Trump administration pointed to the problem of the large trade deficit that the US has with China, and set out to 'refund' jobs to the country to regain its position as a manufacturing and trade base. Both countries have entered what Sendagorta presents as a period in which Washington and Beijing must confront the interdependence between various sectors of the two countries: they reject the possibility of being in a position of vulnerability to each other, especially in the technology sector, and prioritise their respective security.

In this line, disconnecting the sectors is the approach that has been adopted: China developing its own technological systems, and the US trying to prevent the expansion of these in Western countries. China's technological growth in artificial intelligence and 5G has been a source of concern for the US, which has focused on wanting to exclude Huawei from the 5G networks being created in neighbouring countries. Washington is wary of the political use that China can make of its technology present in other countries, while at the same time, in its pressure on these countries, it makes political decisions disguised as apparent technological reasons. The result is that there has been a significant loss of market share for Beijing in the US, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and India; however, Chinese technology has continued to spread in Asia, Africa, Latin America and some European countries. Europe is still in a position of indecision, given the strong campaign by the US in several EU capitals to exclude Chinese companies from 5G networks.

With respect to Europe's relationship with China, Europeans find themselves in a complicated position, as they have to assess how to move in the established pulse between Washington and Beijing. Moreover, the EU's strong commercial and investment commitment to China is beginning to be questioned by the lack of reciprocity that the Chinese have taken advantage of. While in 2016, Federica Magherini presented a European Union strategy document in which reciprocity in ties and cooperation with China was sought, today the EU is drawing up a strategy of greater competition. Europe's investment in China, of which it is the main trading partner , grew to a peak of €35 billion in 2016, but the figure fell to €17.3 billion in 2018. The European countries most vulnerable to China's increased strategic influence are those located in the Balkans, as their lack of EU membership and a clear timetable for accession leaves them more at Beijing's expense. This is particularly the case in Serbia, where China has financed important infrastructure projects. Sendagorta believes that European integration is at risk due to China's increasing influence, whose goal aim is to become a technological leader and on whose technical developments many countries will end up depending.

Another issue Sendagorta addresses is movement in the Asia-Pacific arena. One of the most important factors for China's Economics is its access to oil and gas. The conflict in the South China Sea is due to the amount of rich natural resources and control over shipping routes from the Strait of Malacca to the Chinese coast. Beijing claims sovereignty along its 'nine-dash line', which would give it free reign over 80 per cent of the South China Sea, in the face of the historical sovereignty of other coastal countries and the Law of the Sea Convention's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of each territory. There have also been disputes over the "one China" principle that links Beijing to Taiwan, an island supported by the US. To deal with China's pre-eminence and moderate its hegemonic projection, the Quad, a forum formed by the US, Japan, Australia and India, has been formed to try to curb China's expansion, while regional organisations such as ASEAN seek to establish multilateral relations.

We could conclude that, in this status, the United States and Europe have a very powerful strategic competitor in China and need to find a balance between cooperation and competition with Beijing. We find ourselves in a status in which the United States feels threatened by an emerging power, while China seeks to be a world leader and Europe is in the middle, in doubt about which path to follow. This is a conflict above all of technology and innovation, which has been going on for a long time and has been accelerated in the post-pandemic period. Sandagorta's book is a quick (less than two hundred pages) and at the same time complete snapshot of the moment the world is going through.