It is “the biggest geopolitics test of the 21st century”, as Biden called it. This relationship of conflict and mistrust between America and China has significant implications for the world and periphery countries. The conflict that covers dominance over Asia, advanced technology, commerce and many other fields that significantly impact many countries as interests are constantly being changed and shaped.
Let's start with the most pressing point. It is not dominance over the Pacific but rather advanced technology supremacy. The US military complex, with the help of domestic institutions such as NASA, the department of national energy labs and the NSF, especially through Bell labs and heavy subsidies of relevant industries, drove and supported R&D of advanced technologies.
Examples are revolutionary building blocks (transistors and semiconductors), laser fibre optics, artificial technology, satellite technology, etc. This led to the spin-off effect, which is the commercialization of such technologies making the USA a leader in advanced technology.
However, as the US moves into a more tertiary economy, China is stepping in and challenging US supremacy. Both countries have restricted imports of technology (China more than the US) from the other. The US is crippling the development of Chinese corporation (Huawei) and monopolizing the rights of technology which China is constantly ignoring.
Furthermore, there is China’s cyber-meddling and the launch of their long-awaited aerospace manufacturing company, COMAC. I could go on and on about the strategies they implement to advance their positions, but you can see that tensions are rising as China strives for advanced technology supremacy, a key position of power in our very technology-centric modern age.
Another area of conflict that has the most spotlight is the conflict over the sea bordering the Pacific Ocean - the South China Sea. The South China Sea is primarily a territorial dispute. The US and China are both increasing their presence in the area as China claims sovereignty of that area. Of course, the US is protecting the “free” and open access to the South China Sea and the rights of other claimants (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam). The media fails to mention that the conflict mainly presides over “the substantial natural gas deposits, potential oil reserves or lucrative fishing grounds in the disputed territory”.
If this falls into the hands of China, it conflicts with the interest of many US and European MNC companies. Furthermore, an estimated $3.37 trillion of total trade passed through the South China Sea in 2016, and 40% of global liquefied natural gas trade transited through the South China Sea in 2017. Regarding tension in the East Sea, it has an estimated 200 million barrels of oil reserves. Both areas are of strategic importance, which will have a critical impact on US interest if left for China. Energy control and distribution is a major source of global power for the US as countries strive for energy security; its loss is detrimental and the same goes for trading routes. (Global Conflict Tracker l Council on Foreign Relations, 2021)
The conflict also hovers over Taiwan, commerce, and other fields and mainly follows the same logic: conflict of political and economic interests. As stated in a previous article, “Conflict and Development”, conflict is key to development. China’s presence, even though it’s a centralized authoritarian country, creates competition which is key to development as both polar countries limit each other’s power.
The absolute power US once had after the cold war produced nothing but absolute corruption, as we’ve seen with their irrational interventions in Iraq and Latin America. However, with China competing with them, they will have to gain the trust of countries and strategically calculate their moves and the same goes for China. They will have to maintain a good reputation as a reliable trading partner not an exploitive one.