Geopolitical Tensions between China and the United States

Tension between China and the United States in the contest for world supremacy will increase with time for a very notable reason – both are competing for the same position. These are structural tensions which exist due to a dispute between an emerging, ascending power and one that has consolidated its hegemony over a long period. This latest incident – shooting down the Chinese balloons notoriously found to be spying over strategic areas in the United States – will add to the growing list of dramatic incidents involving both powers over the course of time.

Studying history shows us that every empire has its downfall; no empire is eternal and other nations eventually acquire the superior influence to achieve world hegemony. This has occurred in the past with the Persian, Ottoman, Mongolian, Roman and British empires, to name a few. At some point in history, it will happen with the United States.

How Close Are We to This Happening?

International analysts who lean toward or promote left-leaning ideas believe we are very close. They believe that a new international order will emerge based on new values because China will displace the United States as the supreme world power in the short or medium term. International analysts that skew liberal, those that promote democracy and the free market, believe the complete opposite: that the United States will continue being the first world power for many years because China does not have the political, economic, technological, or military strength to take its place.

To give the reader a more complete idea of what we are dealing with, outside of the political and ideological motivations behind the situation, it is advisable to consider whether each nation is in a suitable position to exercise world hegemony, and in this way, to understand their respective strengths and weaknesses.

The surface area of the United States of 9,833,517 km2 and that of China is 9,596,960 km2. The population of the United States is 329 million and that of China exceeds 1.402 billion. The United States has been the largest economic power in the world since 1871; its gross domestic product in 2022 was $25.46 trillion, with an annual GDP per capita of $74,725, while that of China was $17.95 trillion, with an annual GDP per capita of $12,500.

Regarding military capacity, the United States has the most powerful army in the world according to the 2022 Global Firepower and Military Strength Ranking. The country counts among its ranks 1,395,000 active soldiers, 13,247 fighter jets, 5,500 of the most modern nuclear arms, 92 destroyers, 11 aircraft carriers with the capacity to endure more than a year of conflict without repair, and a military budget of $777 billion – exceeding that of the following nine armies altogether.

In other words, in military spending alone, the United States surpasses China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Brazil combined. It has 800 miliary bases outside its own territory, strategically located across each continent, from where it controls all the planet’s maritime routes, including canals and straits.

On the other hand, China has 2,035,000 active soldiers, 3,285 fighter jets, 350 nuclear weapons and three aircraft carriers, none of which is nuclear. Its military spending in 2022 totaled $207 billion. It only possesses one military base outside its territory in Djibouti, a small country located in the Horn of Africa.

The U.S. dollar is the most popular currency in the world, with a daily median value of around $2.9 trillion, making up 90% of all transactions. It is the main currency of foreign exchange reserves with a contribution of 63%. It is the currency used to set prices for important raw materials such as gold, silver, copper and petroleum, among others, and the currency for trading a number of good across global markets. The yuan (Renminbi), the official currency of China, takes eighth place among the main world currencies with a daily median value of $142 billion. It is the seventh currency of foreign exchange reserves and makes up 1.23% of total reserves.

Of the 100 biggest and most important businesses in the world, 57 are in the United States, 14 more than China. Of the 10 most important technology businesses in the world, eight are in the United States, one is in China and the other is in Taiwan. So that the reader is familiar with the economic power of the businesses that we are talking about, let’s take Apple as an example. Apple’s value is $3.1 trillion, surpassing the gross domestic product of every single African nation combined and the combined GDP of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina in Latin America.

According to the 2022 ranking of the best universities in the world, eight of the top 10 most prestigious institutions are found in the United States as well as 15 of the top 20, including the first, second, third and fifth. The top university in China appears 23rd on the list.

When it comes to Nobel Prizes granted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the United States is the outright winner. The U.S. has accumulated a total of 385 Nobel Prizes in different fields of expertise, but especially in economics, physics, chemistry and medicine. China has only obtained eight prizes since the prize was established in 1901.

Strategic Alliances and Political Systems

Some analysts we spoke with believe that whoever dominates Eurasia controls the world. In this context, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have strengthened the United States’ alliance with the historic continent. What the last five presidents of the United States were unable to achieve with European leaders, Vladimir Putin made happen in one day by invading Ukraine.

This act pushed the whole of Europe to the side of the United States out of fear of further Russian aggression. Panic spread to such an extent that Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland began petitioning for NATO membership and proceeded to invest in security and defense as the organization requires. China has Russia as its only ally in Europe, but the ulterior objectives of both countries are inconsistent with each other. China has abstained from all votes connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. However, at this moment in time, it has not contributed to the war as Moscow had hoped because China’s economic relations with Europe and the United States are essential for its objectives.

In the Indo-Pacific, a game of high-level political chess is playing out as this is key territory for China and the hub of world geopolitics at present. China has strategic alliances in this region with North Korea, Pakistan and Myanmar. However, there are also very important players on the opposing side — including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan — which, among other things, want the support of the United States should a conflict with China arise and want at least to be a part of a system of strategic alliances led by the United States in the region to contain the Chinese advance. These include the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a military alliance comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia, and AUKUS, a separate military alliance comprising the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The United States has not limited itself to forming exclusively military alliances in this region and is also leading an economic alliance called “Altasia” in the Indian-Pacific economic space, comprising countries stretching from Japan to India, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Brunei, among others. The objective of this alliance is to absorb businesses that are leaving China due to global supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, when China’s behavior fell far short of conduct by a trustworthy Western ally.

The system of strategic alliances that the United States has established across the world resembles the formidable global empire as foreseen by Zbigniew Brzezinski in “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives,” which has remained the singular authority on global geopolitics years since it was published.

China’s political system is a limiting factor for China in its quest for world supremacy. It will not be easy to convince the developed world of the supposed advantages of a system that does not recognize any kind of freedom and is, in fact, an authoritarian state, one which denies Western values such as liberty, a free economy, the rule of law and respect of human rights, all protections that individual nations fight for with blood, sweat and tears so as to never lose them.

In the light of the hard data that determines who exercises global power, China could become the largest global economy given its large population and its rapid development in recent years, but it will not become the largest global power while the distribution of strength in the global sphere remains the same. With respect, it seems that there is more propaganda, nostalgia, and unsatisfied ideological desire than there is reality behind the predictions of a new global order dominated by China in the short or medium term.

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About Hannah Adams 21 Articles
Hi! I am Hannah and I am a Modern Languages graduate. This coming year, I will begin studying for an MA in Translation (Spanish > English). I was drawn to Watching America due to its commitment to high quality translation and facilitating accessibility to foreign language news.

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