At press conference after press conference, President Trump’s appearances in front of the media continue to stoke the fire that heats the tensile relationship between the United States and China. Rhetoric that negatively frames China’s domestic and foreign policy has led many to grow weary of the direction that tensions seem to be taking. It seems, then, that the alienation between the two global powers is only burgeoning in depth.
While contentions between the US and China predate the Trump Administration, the last four years have proven to be especially tumultuous. The United States has moved towards more globally isolating international policy, in the process further incentivizing China to distance itself from the diplomacy table and pursue its own agenda. Indeed, they have; as China increasingly bolsters its economy and international influence, it further sends the United States into panic surrounding dealing with the threat of a new rival.
The crux of their conflict can be best described with a model of competitive game theory. One player in the game is the infinite player, focusing on attaining growth for itself and prolonged, indefinite survival. The other player is the finite one, focused on winning the game and beating its rival. The theory goes that, oftentimes, in a game between a finite and infinite player, the infinite player’s growth-orientation and desire to thrive for itself will leave the finite player frustrated and inefficient while it plays by a different set of rules. It seems that, in the status quo, China has governed its foreign policy decisions by a set of standards that much more reflects the philosophies of an infinite player. Through developments like the Belt Road Initiative and advancements in the South China Sea, China has consistently proven that its principal goal is not to beat out its competition on the international stage, but to increase its footholds within it: its dominance naturally follows. Yet, between tariffs and aggression to its rival, America has conversely proven itself to be a much more finite player in the game.
Today, with exacerbating tensions amidst the outbreak of COVID-19, advocates for a more geopolitically isolated state have even gone so far as to suggest taking approaches to dealing with China similar to those of the Cold War. Striking the optimal balance between beneficial bilateral trade and self-production of essential goods is a difficult task, but to overemphasize military aggression (both direct and by proxy) would be a significant disservice to the United States. As discussed earlier, for the US to treat China like the Soviet Union would be a bad misprioritization of objectives, and would mostly likely only further the United States’ frustration with its lag behind China’s growth. With the US election right around the corner, the Trump Administration has attempted to downplay the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in hopes of keeping public approval high. Yet, the mismanagement of the outbreak has been disastrous for Americans, and for the United States to prioritize antagonizing China would certainly not make that better.
Instead of making a shift towards cooperation amidst the crisis, the United States and China have only strained their relationship further, a progression that seems to be damaging the United States more than China. With the United States’ nature as a more finite player, it’s unfortunately rather unsurprising. The importance of the United States reprioritizing cooperation and management of the crisis cannot be understated, perhaps now more than ever.
After the failure of peace talks at the UN, hopes of a resolution of the military conflicts in Libya and Yemen are dwindling. Long-riddled with international intervention and proxy-centric tactics, violent breakouts in the Middle East have infamously been subject to various power plays of large Western and Eastern countries. The Libyan conflict is no different; after President Erdogan of Turkey announced an aggressive military strategy in December, the internationalization of the civil war has only increased. The UAE began to back coalitions in the area, leading to rising tensions throughout the region. All the while, the Libyan people continue to experience the negative domestic effects that al-Qaddafi’s regime left, most notably the deep social divides that led to the eruption of aggression between factions within the country.
Yet, with the outbreak of COVID-19, things are most likely going to go from bad to worse. COVID-19 has created a unique domestic challenge that doesn’t discriminate by strength of economy, meaning that the ability to focus on international relations is greatly diminished. With Western countries shifting their attention to domestic issues, decreasing their ability to mediate, the situation has made it easier than ever for warring groups to ignore developed countries’ guidance and the UN’s declaration of a global ceasefire. With domestic conflicts in Yemen and Libya already on the upturn prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, it seems now that the international powers in both conflicts have dismissed any notion of peaceful de-escalation in favor of the goal to annihilate the opposition. Problematically for the soldiers themselves, with poor health and precautionary standards in warzones and camps, both militia and governmental encampments of soldiers are highly prone to virus outbreaks among the ranks, only further complicating the intersection between health concerns and military conflict.
With both conflicts increasingly polarizing among major powers in the UN, it is inherently difficult for the organization to decide how aid is directed. At that point, it may be in the UN’s best interest to focus on the groups of people that are most deeply affected by this conflict when they may not be playing a part to propagate it. Specifically, UAE-backed forces in the Libyan conflict have begun establishing focus points with significant civilian populations. As with any war-torn area, women and children that are often detached from the turmoil still pay the price of regional instability. Collectively trying to work above the divisions formed by these conflicts to foster resources for innocent civilians should be fortified as a priority for the UN.
As for the conflict, with many developed and developing nations finding it difficult to focus on international affairs and cooperation to quell domestic outbreaks, it seems that the UN’s capacity to peacefully stabilize these internationalized civil wars may be declining. The collective implication of the conflicts remains uncertain, but, in the meantime, it is up to the members of the international community to do all they can to look out for their neighbors.