While the election of Donald Trump was allegedly the desire of the Russians, it was most certainly not the goal of the Chinese government. During the primaries and throughout the general election, Trump was very vocal against China, even promising to declare them a currency manipulator on Day 1 of his presidency. Although Trump has served as president for 46 days, he has yet to declare China as such, and the Secretary of the Treasury seems to paint the possibility as unlikely. Instead, following election day president Trump claimed the “One China” policy was negotiable, a decision angering the government of mainland China. This began the now rocky relations between the two nations. Now, the USA and China have seemingly entered a Leng Zhan, which is Chinese for Cold War, as to who owns the best navy, diplomatic relations, economy, education, and even the best wall.
Arguably, China is using the transition period from Obama to Trump to quickly jump to the forefront of the international community, which also quickly advances the Leng Zhan. Whether because of Trump’s unpredictability or his lack of foreign policy experience, China has pushed their nation to be in direct competition with the United States in almost every field. In science, a Chinese space station was successfully launched into space, later followed by two scientists on an experimental mission, almost identical to the space race occurring in Russia during the Cold War. In education, the Chinese are currently known for their incredible discipline and dedication, winning many of the highest honors in competitions around the world, just like the Soviets did. This indicates that the Leng Zhan will force China to advance beyond its means through the pressure of national and international image.
However, the competition that perhaps holds the most importance is the emergence of a stronger Chinese navy. China is well known for their claim on the South China Sea, an area the United States has disputed as international waters. Over the past few years, the US has kept an impressive naval influence throughout the region to encourage the international waters’ claim. While China has been clear in its opposition to US military presence, Trump’s unpredictability on Chinese affairs has produced a clear reaction by China, which may result in casting this conflict to the forefront of international incidents. According to Chinese sources, the Asian nation is actually outmaneuvering the American military in the South China Sea. Only this past week, China made a statement saying they had every right to militarize the disputed waters through their manmade islands. While China has not been overtly aggressive in the South China Sea, they are increasing their overall military presence around the world. In Djibouti, a Chinese military base has been established, and as noted before, is necessary for international military dominance. If both the US and China build up their military, the potential for a lethal clash becomes more and more probable, creating the Leng Zhan between the two nations, which also both hold nuclear weapons.
These escalations come at a time when China and the United States would benefit the most by working together, even with the underlying Leng Zhan. North Korea has started to publicly dismiss its lone ally, China, bringing an opportunity that the United States should take advantage of to gain international acclaim for peaceful partnerships. Additionally, China’s increased difficulties with ISIS create a common enemy, and produce a clear basis of forming allies. These points should serve as uniting China and the US. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has yet to produce a clear or effective response to the escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, in the meantime allowing China to be seen as the sole hero in not caving to North Korea’s demands. Each time this occurs, China inches towards replacing the US on the international stage.
However, this Leng Zhan between China and the United States is a battle that will end in disappointment for those siding with China. Just like Reagan escalated the weapons race between the Soviet Union and a 1980s era America to force the fall of the Soviet Union, Communist China will also fail to keep up in the naval race against the United States. The lack of freedom and ability to benefit from creative solutions limits the ability of Chinese advancement. The nation openly admits to restricting internet content and actively suppresses knowledge of the Tiananmen Square revolts from their citizens. Just recently, a BBC crew was brutalized for attempting to paint a picture of the other side. History tells us that China is preparing to fight a war it cannot win. If the Leng Zhan continues with military escalation and restricted freedoms of Chinese nationals, it will result in a historic decline of Chinese influence, similar to what the Soviet Union experienced after Reagan’s presidential term.
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