Geopolitics

How Rising China-U.S. Animosity Looks From Beijing

Tensions are playing out in the South China Sea, and stakes couldn't be higher.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yiin Beijing on May 16
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yiin Beijing on May 16
Sun Xingjie

-OpEd-

BEIJING â€" The disputed South China Sea is poised to become the most antagonistic of Sino-American conflicts, if the tough rhetoric from President Barack Obama, high officials and think tanks are any indication.

Of course, this isn't a situation China will relish, because while it is accustomed to being a powerful, competitive nation and a strong global player, it hasn't been in direct competition with its Western counterpart. Up to now, China and the United States have avoided a face-to-face rivalry, and in particular, a fierce geopolitical confrontation. And the two countries' core concerns have generally been unrelated.

But China's rise has become perhaps the biggest variable in today's geopolitical landscape, changing both the pattern of power and the methods of using it. Perhaps the question is how the Thucydides trap â€" a phrase used to describe the likelihood of conflict between a rising power and a currently dominant one â€" will play out. The South China Sea circumstances certainly confirm the growing uncertainty of the relationship between the United States and China.

Washington's anxiety over China's determination to safeguard its sovereignty and grow its territory represents a new source of "mutual suspicion." Among America's core interests are to defend its global leadership and predominance. It's constantly watching for any potential threat.

Since Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter took office, America's psychological defense against China has grown, which is consistent with the viewpoint he expressed in the book he co-authored with former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America. In it, they argue that the United States needs to identify the risks of threats and adopt a strategy of prevention.

Clearly the more China emerges as a world power, the more anxious the U.S. becomes.

The U.S. Navy began showing an interest in China in 2000. That was also the year the U.S. Congress began requiring the Defense Department to submit an annual China Military Power Report as a condition for reviewing the defense budget. Over the years, China has gone from being a so-called "C list-threat" to being an "A list-threat."

Both 9/11 and the global financial crisis temporarily shifted U.S. focus. Chaos in the Middle East and in Ukraine haven't helped. In fact, they've given way to a strategic opportunity for China. Even so, U.S. policy towards China is significantly changing, illustrated by the "qualitative change" of the South China Sea issue. The United States is now treating China like a competitive peer instead of a parallel player.

Global security dominance

Since the beginning of this year, the Obama Administration has repeatedly commented on the tensions in the South China Sea. The U.S. State Department and the Defense Department in particular have issued numerous declarations on the matter. The U.S. Navy even dispatched sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft to investigate above the islands where China is building up its military to expanding its territorial reach. It also strategically included the media.

The U.S. is not a southeast Asian nation, so why is Washington so disturbed by China's movements over the past month? While China is convinced that the United States has no right to intervene in regional territorial disputes, Washington regards it as a significant part of its diplomatic relations with China.

Changing U.S. policy towards China is being reflected in several ways. First, China's Silk Road Economic Belt and the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are likely to reshape Eurasia"s economic system. But since the end of World War II, America's interest has been to prevent any other country from dominating the Eurasian continent. Second, China and Russia are becoming closer, collaborating on various major issues. The more repressed Russian becomes, the closer its ties with China.

For the U.S., relations with China are very different from those with Russia. Not only do America and Russia represent two lateral geopolitical systems, they are also parallel geo-economic entities. They belong to utterly opposing ideological camps. The most significant common interest is the prevention of nuclear war.

Meanwhile, China and the United States form a community of interests. While the U.S. is the founder of today's international system, China is this system's rising nation. Like other east Asian states, the success of China's export-oriented economy benefited from the open American market. Since the end of the Cold War, China and the United States have remained in a position of non-direct competition during which China was neither capable nor interested in challenging U.S. global security dominance.

No longer just economic ambition

Economic development was China's core mission. Separating politics from economics effectively circumvented geopolitical pressure from the United States. The war against terrorism and China's inclusion in the World Trade Organization further strengthened the non-adversarial nature of their relationship and gave China more than a decade of strategic opportunity.

But the financial crisis made China realize that over-reliance on dollars and the American market would exacerbate the imbalance between China and the global economy, which isn't conducive to China's sustainable development. The huge foreign exchange reserves China has accumulated, its infrastructure development and its industrial foundation all potentially enable it to reshape Eurasia's economic order. Meanwhile, the success of the AIIB initiative means that it's becoming difficult for the United States to contain China geo-economically.

By advancing the idea that China is "throwing elbows" with small Asian countries, Washington is trying to divert focus from the Silk Road Economic Belt to the South China Sea, using the geopolitical contest to eliminate China's geo-economic efforts.

China doesn't excel at military and political games. It needs to review the South China Sea territorial dispute from a greater strategic vision. Apart from that issue, the United States won't be a bystander of the Silk Road initiative since it remains the world's primary security guarantor. Without a secured environment, it's impossible for China to put forward its Silk Road strategies. The two nations ought to divide their labors.

The AIIB demonstrates that China is capable of international influence. With the disputed South China Sea, China should seek the interpretation of international law and move away from being seen as geopolitically ambitious. If a consensus is reached through consultation of all parties, the better for China. Because its peaceful rise depends on peaceful coexistence.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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