Relations between the United States and China show increasing symptoms of tension and deterioration. The hopes that the Munich Security Conference could serve, with a possible meeting between representatives of both countries, as an element of containment of the escalation vanished and revealed a strategic competition full of geopolitical risks.
Beijing’s top diplomatic representative, Wang Yi, took advantage of his speech at the conference this Saturday to present a long list of accusations against Washington, including having reacted in a “hysterical and absurd” way in the crisis of the Chinese balloon that penetrated into its airspace and was subsequently shot down by the Pentagon. “He did not show strength, but weakness. It was 100% an abuse of the use of force. We don’t accept it,” said Wang, who also openly accused the US of seeking to “contain China, harm it with false accusations and co-opt other countries to do the same.”
Shortly after, the US vice president, Kamala Harris, expressed her “concern about the deepening of relations between China and Russia after the invasion of Ukraine” while accusing Moscow of having committed crimes against humanity in its war offensive.
Taiwan is the territory where the risks of the tough competition between the two powers becoming confrontational are concentrated. The tension is very high, with increasing military aid from Washington to the island and the prospect of a visit to the territory by the new leader of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, after the one his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi made in the legislature. pass. That gesture was perceived as a serious provocation by Beijing.
Asked if he could assure that there will be no imminent military escalation in Taiwan, Wang replied: “I assure the audience that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory; that it has never been a country and will not be in the future. This is the status quo, and it is not China that wants to change it”. Earlier, he had warned that “China will resolutely curb acts of separatism and interference to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Wang outlined a scenario in which “the Cold War mentality is back, in which geopolitical risks are magnifying and unilateralism is rampant,” he said, charging against attempts to “promote ideological confrontation and the formation of exclusionary blocs.” ”.
He did not specify who in his opinion would be the promoter of these scourges, nor did he do so when he warned that “exaggerating security threats or spurring tensions undermines mutual strategic trust and increases the risk of miscalculation”; or when he pointed out that “the principle of sovereignty is the cornerstone of the international order and should not be applied with double standards.” Probably no one in the room doubted that he was referring to the United States, and many would surely have wanted to be able to reply by asking: Why, if the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are as important as the Chinese representative stressed, did Beijing not condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the UN?
Wang’s speech highlighted China’s strategy of trying to get the EU not to follow the US in its policy towards Beijing. “The world should not drift down the wrong path of protectionism, of decoupling, of breaking chains,” he said. “China and Europe are two great forces, markets, civilizations in an increasingly multipolar world. The decisions we make have a huge impact on the future of the world. If we choose dialogue and cooperation, a confrontation of blocs will not emerge; if we choose peace and stability, a new Cold War will not break out”.
The economic, commercial and technological dimension is a key aspect of the struggle between the two powers, and Washington seeks its allies to accompany the strategy. Japan and the Netherlands have shown, for example, their willingness to go along with restrictions on microchip exports to Beijing, a key element in the technology race of the future.
In Munich, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underscored her belief in the importance of globalization evolving, placing greater importance on resilience than efficiency. Tai also said that the Joe Biden Administration believes in free trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary for trade security.
Wary of an abrupt distancing
The EU seeks, with some difficulties, a common position in these circumstances. Eastern European countries, which perceive the full support of the US as vital, are more willing to continue on the path of tough competition set by Washington. But others, including major economies with strong ties to China, are wary of an abrupt disengagement. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is committed to reducing the risks of excessive dependence rather than decoupling, with a political position that seems less intense than that of the US.
The conference, in effect, offered the stage to several leaders of the global South, a concept that unites a heterogeneous group of countries, but in which a clear instinct of non-alignment is detected in the conflicts that take place on the West/East axis. and a frustration with the consequences in the South of the actions of the North.
China vigorously seeks to avoid the formation of a bloc that tangibly breaks commercial ties. In Munich, Wang assured that Beijing will remain on the path of “peaceful development.” “There are those who consider it inevitable that a growing power, at a given moment, will try to be hegemonic. But we have no reason to stray from our path, and every reason to stay on it,” Wang said, stressing that China’s prosperity can only take hold in a peaceful environment.
Time will give its judgment on the evolution of the competition between the US and China. The signals emitted in Munich are not very encouraging.