The American Lead is Fading: The Sino-American Power-Struggle

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, citizens of the United States and the newly created Russian federation were able to take a deep breath of relief after more than four decades of Cold War. However, the emergence of China as a regional power seeking to increase its global influence might revive and even reinvigorate the fears of a total war that would annihilate entire countries in matter of minutes.

In recent years, American dominance has been weakened as the United States has started to retreat from regions that it once controlled, while other countries like China and Russia have started to assume leadership positions in those places. This trend is only expected to continue as the American government favors a nationalistic and isolationist foreign policy under the Trump administration, which will further weaken American influence in the international arena.
While the United States once reigned supreme, now it is relegated to a second or even third place, as the current administration ends the American participation in multinational agreements and previous administrations have neglected regions that did not serve American national interests after the end of the Cold War.

Recently, President Trump terminated American participation in the Paris Agreement, which seeks to unite the world in an effort to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment; additionally, Trump’s isolationism and protectionism have prompted ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multinational trade agreement in the Pacific Rim. American withdrawal from multinational agreements that it once championed in the past might weaken America’s position as global hegemon, since Europe, Africa and Latin America — otherwise known as “America’s backyard’’ — are looking to improve diplomatic and commercial relation with China.

As China and its close ally, Russia, are strengthening their positions as global powers, the Pax Americana, or the period of relative peace overseen by US hegemony, seems to be fading into a new cold war between the United States and China.

Globalization and free trade, two policies that the United States spearheaded in the past, are now ironically being championed by China, a communist regime. This shift in globalization is accelerated by the aforementioned American withdrawal of the TPP, and Trump’s skepticism of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which promotes liberalization of trade among its member countries.

However, these decisions were made following Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, which seem to produce the opposite effect in the real world, as Peter Pahm, a contributor writer for Forbes Magazine, argues in an article. Pham states that retiring from the TPP was an strategic mistake for the United States, which no longer will be “pulling the strings” of free trade in Asia. As “China now has the call on how regional trade is conducted… which also enhances financial and political ties with other countries,” the United States surrendered its commercial and political influence in East Asia to China.

A similar situation might be occurring in the Middle East where Russia has fortified its regional power and gained powerful allies in the region such as Turkey and, of course, Iran, which feels betrayed by the US on the nuclear agreement that aims to prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons.

Charlie Campbell, a writer for Times Magazine, noted that in the peace talk held a year ago to end the Syrian crisis, all regional powers, including Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan were invited, but not the United States. This is a clear example that the United States’ global power is just a shadow of what it used to be, especially after Russia seized Crimea with little global resistance. America’s ineffective actions against Russia have reasserted Russia’s position in the region, and debilitated America’s influence in the region.

On the other hand, United States’ hegemony in the Western hemisphere, which it swore to protect under the infamous Monroe Doctrine, is declining as well. Antonio C. Hsiang, a Professor and Director of the Center for Latin American Economy and Trade Studies at Chihlee University of Technology, Taiwan, wrote in an article for “The Diplomat” that “the United States appears content to withdraw from the region and cede leadership to China, a startling state of affairs considering that Latin America had long been considered to be part of the U.S. geostrategic backyard.”

In the roughly 40 years of Cold War, the USSR only had one clear victory in Latin America, which was Cuba; the other attempts made by Soviet sympathizers were foiled by the US and its regional allies.

Panama, traditionally an ally of the United States, recognized the People’s Republic of China over the Republic of China (Taiwan) in 2017. However, the American influence in Panama started to diminish 17 years ago, when the American government ceded the control of the canal to Panama. Hsiang argues that “in the aftermath, the canal lost some of its strategic importance to Washington, but its importance to the rest of the world did not diminish.” Losing influence over the canal meant that the United States would no longer have the commercial privileges that the Panama Canal once entitled.

To complicate America’s commercial hegemony in the world, China is pursuing, the One Belt Road Initiative (BRI) which seeks to create a commercial corridor that would connect China to African and European markets in a sort of a modern Silk Road.

Notions of a second Cold War are more real than once expected, especially now that China is starting to assume a leadership role where the United States is retreating. If isolationism continues to dictate Trump’s foreign policy, this new Cold War might be sooner than expected as China will continue to expand its diplomatic and commercial influence in the world.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at ssuarez1@uci.edu.

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