Warming up to a 'cold' war
Not too long ago, it appeared as though India and China were militarily heading to a point of no return. But, regardless of the ongoing state of tensions, the nations appeared to have walked back from the edge. Now, it would appear that the US and China are diplomatically heading for a point of no return as well.
It is common enough knowledge that US foreign relations in the era of Trump have been a little haywire. Bashing on allies and cosying up to known enemies of the US and personal freedom has been the mark of the current White House administration. In the midst of all this, US relations with China have been particularly confusing. Trump's relationship with Jinping goes from that of being 'good friends' to a blatantly antagonistic stand rather soon. Trump has offered his tactic support for everything from the suppression of the Hong Kong protests to the continued internment of the Uighurs in North-West China. Indeed, if anything holds priority to Trump in his dealings with China, its trade. The US has previously shelved thoughts of sanctions in favour of not upsetting potential trade deals with China.
Regardless, trade ended up becoming a point of major contention between the US and China as their trade war caused a major stir in the global economy while not really forcing either side to blink first in the game of chicken. Now that improving relations with Jinping and China is largely off the table, Trump and his administration have unloaded a whole host of contentions against China, that range from spying and Hong Kong to the previously sidelined issue of Uighur internment. This is quite aside from the Trump administration's increasing frustration over not being able to adequately assign the blame for America's nightmarish pandemic scenario on China. The latest series of escalations in many ways relate to this frustration. Last week, the Trump administration accused the Houston consulate of China of trying to aid a conspiracy to steal medical research from Texas institutes. No further details were published and the consulate was ordered to shut down by the White House. A further point of contention was the US officials' alleged forced entry into the Chinese consulate. It was reported that federal agents were seen checking the consulate's doors and that a locksmith was seen working on a lock after the Chinese diplomats had left. This act came following sanctions on senior Chinese officials for a laundry list of issues and a travel ban on Chinese students at the graduate level or higher who are known to have ties to the Chinese military. Miffed by such humiliating acts, China's Foreign Ministry made its dissatisfaction vocal and promised to get even, as has been the running theme in US-China interactions of late.
This week, the American consulate in Chengdu was ordered to close its doors and shut down. In addition to making clear that this was an act of retaliation, a foreign ministry spokesperson also asserted that certain members of the American consulate in Chengdu were engaged in illicit activities that endangered Chinese interests and encroached on its sovereignty as a nation. This was meant to indicate that the consulate was already a target for the Chinese and that American actions in Houston only served to 'force their hand'.
As both nations lob accusations back and forth, their respective media has only added fuel to the raging firestorm. There have been thinly veiled warnings of explosive confrontations that would make the Cold War look tame in comparison. The current social scenarios in both nations also present an unusual scenario. While China is criticised from every direction regarding its human rights violations in Xianjing and Hong Kong, it usually responds to the allegations by threats of economic sanctions and warnings to leave matters of Chinese sovereignty alone. With the US, however, China has found ample ammunition in the ongoing civil unrest in the US regarding the murder of George Floyd. They have found a great source of comebacks in this ongoing period of civil strife in America and room to claim that the Trump administration should look to clean up its own backyard rather than worrying about Chinese concerns.
Ultimately, this is a game. Trump is using the anti-Chinese narrative to buff up his election support which is looking patchy at the moment. China is using the anti-US narrative to obscure its own wrongdoings (whatever they may be) and consolidate its citizenry. There is no right or wrong. This is politics and these are all players. But there are lasting effects to be had. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has gone several steps further and labelled the last 50 years of hands-off engagement with China since the Nixon era as a mistake. Whether he is right or wrong, the fact remains that such escalations will likely carry on past the Trump era and shape future US-China engagements. Obviously, this affects the world. India even more so. At the present stage when tensions with China are peaking in India, the US stands ready to support us like no other time in history. China understands this and is likely keen to avoid its two 'rivals' from becoming a bloc against it. The drama is far from over.