On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came up with a statement during a press conference in London in which he announced Washington's aspirations to build a coalition of countries that would push China to change its political behaviors.
Coalition Possible But Europe's Enthusiasm Unlikely
"The countries that are most interested in cooperating with the United States will be those countries that are experiencing the rise of the Chinese threat, but have confidence in America's ability to help defend. And for most part, there are simply three countries in the world, maybe four, that are willing to cooperate more with the United States," Robert S. Ross, professor of political science at Boston University and associate at Harvard University's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, told Sputnik.
The expert specified these countries to be Japan, India and Australia, saying that they are now the focus of the US diplomacy and defense policy, as Washington is seeking to reassert power around East Asia rather than inside East Asia, where "America is declining relative to China."
Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, added to this list South Korea as a country to "overtly support" the would-be coalition as well as the Philippines and Taiwan and "most NATO members concerned with the loss of Western hegemony" as those to be "not opposed" to a coalition.
Additionally, Ross said some smaller countries in the Western Pacific, such as the Solomon Islands, might be interested to join in, as will Taiwan, but added that all listed countries are "the exceptions rather than the rule, and for the most part around the world there is considerable reluctance to participate in a new Cold War with China."
With regard to other potential coalition members, Falk said those would likely be driven by "regional containment and security considerations."
Experts were unanimous in that the only country in Europe that is likely to support the US-led coalition against China is the United Kingdom. According to Ross, it is a "reflection of intense American pressure on Great Britain to support American policy toward Huawei."
Earlier this week, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that his country was halting 5G cooperation with Chinese tech giant Huawei until 2027. The move came along with two other seemingly hostile announcements: that London will suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and send a UK carrier to attend military drills in the Far East.
"European countries will resist cooperating. The American concern for China is primarily about the rise of China in East Asia, and the European countries have very little at stake in the security developments in East Asia. They are more concerned about European affairs and managing relations with Russia, which have deteriorated recent years. Secondly, they are more concerned with helping their own economies by taking advantage of the growth of China's domestic economy for their exports," Ross told Sputnik.
Among all European states, it is Germany that is going to find itself in the hardest puzzle, for reasons including its extensive economic ties with both, the US and China, Alan Cafruny, Henry Platt Bristol Professor of International Affairs at the Hamilton College, told Sputnik.
"Germany is really the crucial factor. Germany will try to maintain a certain neutrality but that's going to become increasingly difficult in the years to come," Cafruny said.
Cold War 2.0
While it is hard to forecast at this point how far Washington will go about the coalition, Falk believes that even if the US government were to change as a result of the presidential election in November, it would not have too of a drastic impact on the diplomacy toward China.
"It seems uncertain at this stage to assess how far Washington will carry its effort to mobilize hostile responses to China, mobilizing grass roots support for confrontation by focusing on developments in Hong Kong, and the recent expressions of human rights concerns about the mistreatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province. The outcome of the American elections in November will bear on the approach taken, with a Biden victory likely softening, although not abandoning, the anti-Chinese diplomacy," the Princeton University professor said.
China's possible response is even of greater uncertainty, according to experts.
"The Chinese are very good at differentiating between what we might call cheap talk diplomacy and actions that reflect greater defense cooperation with United States," Ross said.
Falk, in turn, outlined reasons as to why Beijing might choose to take a tougher stance.
"China has a choice as to whether to escalate the present levels of hostility, which are likely to persist in the years ahead for two main reasons: first, China’s effort to assert influence within its region is in tension with the global security network maintained by the US, with the Pacific Ocean and China seas as a major strategic arena for Washington, and part of the 'bipartisan consensus' in the US Congress and mainstream public opinion that has existed since the end of the Cold War," Falk said.
According to the expert, China's foreign political moves are essentially economic and resting on soft power, whereas the US response appears to be pursing to reproduce "Cold War ideas of militarism," based on superiority of hard power and strategy of containment.
Plenty of factors to potentially impact the geopolitical clash, either softening or hardening it, evolve around close regional partnerships and alliances maintained by both, Beijing and Washington, experts said.
"There is a kind of bipolarity in the world, but it is a very complex one as well. Japan, South Korea, even Australia have such close economic relations with China, as of course does the United States," Cafruny said.
If however crises were to emerge in relation to South Korea or Taiwan or in a domain of naval confrontation, the geopolitical clash could risk drifting toward war, Falk opined.
"One possibility would be a second cold war, although under different circumstances, more economistic, less ideological, with East Asia replacing Europe as epicenter of contention. A second possibility is the encounter between two alignments with different strategic advantages: US with military, currency, and diplomatic supremacy, and China with soft power ingenuity, economic and technological supremacy," the Princeton University professor said.
Cafruny, too, believes that military confrontation is unlikely to follow, especially one that Europe would want to dive into.
"Certainly, not Europe. Maybe Britain. In fact, I think, the British are threatening or claiming they are going to send an aircraft carrier into the South China Sea. But aside from Britain, none of the European countries would have any interest in in any kind of military coalition," the Hamilton College professor said.
Ross echoed this stance, saying that the most that Europe can be expected to do is take "symbolic measures," such as sending an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea and cooperating with joint naval exercises with Japan or India or Australia.
"These are highly symbolic because the European navies have their hands full, they are preoccupied with developments in Europe and they can afford to spend little time helping the United States and East Asia," Ross said.
At the same time, Cafruny voiced fears that the growing US-China rivalry is "far more dangerous than the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union."
"That Cold War was basically ideological and to some extent even domestically driven in the United States, but the two countries really did not have competing economic interests. For the US and China, it is much more of a classic imperialist rivalry with massive interconnections and interdependencies on each other, and yet, at the same time, a very distinctive and a very close rivalry," Cafruny said.
"The American geopolitical strategy seems dictated by Trump’s priorities of diverting domestic attention from his failures of leadership during the pandemic that have generated a deep socio-economic crisis within the United States and his disposition to pursue a transactional approach to global economic relations, especially on trade issues, hoping to weaken China’s technology challenges relating to 5-G, AI, and robotics," Falk said.
Additionally, Falk argued that the hard diplomacy toward China, with an emphasis on Beijing's autocratic practices, could be pursuing to mobilize support in the US for an increased military budget and a belligerent foreign policy.
The US business evidently has a word to say, too, as its financial interests abroad are at stake, it was argued by Cafruny.
"American business would be very reluctant to see a complete decoupling. Yet, on the other hand, they are very worried about losing economic supremacy in Asia. And in the world, for that matter, even in Europe," Cafruny said.
"China is not Russia during the Cold War. China is not the Soviet Union. It has an open economy, there are advantages of trade. We have cultural contacts. There is no real ideological conflict between China and other countries. So the likelihood that other countries will support the United States in freezing China out of the global community is very low," Ross said to explain why he believed that "the likelihood of a global polarization is very low."
Instead, countries will want to cooperate with China on climate change, trade and proliferation, let alone participate in the Chinese economy, the expert continued. So the most likely strategy on their behalf, both in Europe and Asia, would be to remain equidistant from Beijing and Washington.
"This is not a new Cold War. People in the Trump administration want a new Cold War. This is clear. It is certainly very hard to do because America has a lot of interest in cooperating with China and it will be impossible to decouple the US-China trade relationship. But yes, the Trump administration wants a new Cold War with China, but the world will not follow the Trump administration," Ross said.