At the end of last year and after the meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Indonesia, we were moderately optimistic about the possibility that relations between the two great powers would change the increasingly antagonistic course they were taking and that the opening of the post-COVID world would allow more harmonious work toward joint solutions to major global challenges, such as climate change.
Unfortunately, the reality of these first months of the year has been different. The most recent edition of The Economist magazine literally states on its cover that the state of this relationship is “worse than you think.” In Washington and Beijing, there is a paranoid attitude toward the threat posed by the other country, and today the voices seeking rapprochement or cooperation are almost nonexistent.
In official Chinese media, such as China Daily or the Global Times, there is a constant repetition of the statement that the United States seeks, with different measures and alliances, to halt China’s development as a new power in a multipolar world. This same vision is today almost unanimous both in the messages of its leaders and in conversations in intellectual circles. On the other hand, in the United States, one of the few issues that has bipartisan support is the need to contain China, which represents a threat to the role of the main superpower, to its allies and to the systems of government it supports.
When Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to visit Beijing earlier this year, possibly making space for a more fluid dialogue, the famous “spy balloon” incident occurred and the meeting was canceled. Since then, there has been a cascade of events that has exacerbated mutual distrust. Among others — Xi’s recent visit to Vladimir Putin in Russia in which the two ratified their mutual understanding. Although China has not openly supported the military intervention in Ukraine, neither has it expressly condemned it, and it is now promoting a compromise formula that is not well received in the West.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen will be passing through the United States unofficially, but is expected to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on her return from Guatemala and Belize. They are among the few countries in Central America that still recognize Taiwan after Honduras recently established relations with China. At the time of writing this column, her visit has not yet happened*. If there is one high-stakes issue in their relationship, it is this island. A misunderstanding could easily lead to a regional and possibly global war.
Finally, in this rarefied environment, the decision of both sides to seek a “decoupling” of the economies, starting with strategic sectors in technological and military matters, is becoming more and more evident. China is trying to meet many of these needs internally, but there are some industries, such as those producing the most advanced chips, that are still years or decades away from achieving what Taiwanese and other countries’ companies are doing today. That is precisely where the United States is increasing restrictions. Another developing story is the possibility of blocking or limiting successful Chinese-made apps such as TikTok in the U.S. and its allied countries.
The deterioration of relations has gone so far that there is already talk of establishing Cold War-era emergency communication mechanisms. Undoubtedly, movement in any direction will mark the future of international dynamics and will affect the decisions of all countries, including Colombia. It will happen and we shall see.
*Editor’s Note: President Tsai Ing-wen met with Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday, April 5.