US President Joe Biden speaks from the White House in Washington, on August 1, 2022, to announce that a US airstrike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan. Photo: Pool via AP
Regina Ip
Regina Ip

World has more to fear from an aggressive US than peaceful China

  • With all the toxic politics in Washington and its obsession with global dominance, isn’t the United States the biggest threat to global peace and stability?
Some 2,200 years ago, the first emperor of China built a wall to fend off marauding barbarians from the north. The Great Wall of China kept the invaders at bay for long periods, but it did not prevent it from being breached from time to time. In 1644, despite the Great Wall, China fell to the Manchu. They established the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China.
Today, the United States – considered by some the most powerful empire in human history, thanks to its many natural advantages and benefits from the Enlightenment and European migration – is building a great wall of hi-tech to stymie China’s economic and technological advancement.
In another major step forward in this tech war on China, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on August 9 which restricts US flows of knowledge and capital into “certain national security sensitive technologies and products in countries of concern”. China was identified as the only “country of concern” – alongside the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau – posing a national security threat and warranting the use of economic emergency powers.

The order was not unexpected. However, the scope for further modifications to make sure China does not pose any threat to the US’ technological advantage is firm evidence of the latter’s determination to be the sole winner in the technology race.

Earlier this month, Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt wrote an opinion piece asking how scared the world should be of China. There are no definitive answers to the five questions he posed, which concerned China’s economic prospects, the effectiveness of export controls, the directions of China’s leadership, the effectiveness of Asia balancing, and the reaction of the rest of the world.


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I think a different question – how scared should the world be of the United States? – should be posed instead. We have a lot more to fear from the US than from China, which faces strong economic headwinds, challenging demographics and well-coordinated economic and technological containment by the US and its allies.
China is engaged in territorial disputes and border conflicts, and its approach to foreign policy has been described as “more aggressive” in recent years, but this aggression is more rhetorical than real. China’s goals are purely defensive, merely aimed at upholding its territorial integrity.

In comparison, research by the Fletcher Centre for Strategic Studies at Tufts University found that the US had been involved in an estimated 500 international military interventions since 1776, with almost 60 per cent occurring between 1950 and 2017. One-third of those interventions took place after 1999, when the Cold War era is generally considered to have ended.

In recent years, the US has transformed the framing of its military theatre in Asia from the “Asia-Pacific” to the “Indo-Pacific”. It has made significant strides in cementing security alliances encircling China. These include the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, India and Japan in 2007, the signing of the Force Posture Agreement with Australia in 2014 and the establishment of the Aukus security grouping with Australia and the United Kingdom in 2021.
The US Navy Virginia-class submarine USS North Carolina docks at the HMAS Stirling port in Rockingham on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, on August 4. The submarine arrived for a scheduled port visit as part of routine patrols in the Indo-Pacific region. Photo: AFP
As part of Aukus, Australia agreed in March to purchase a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines worth up to A$368 billion (US$237 million) over the next three decades. That would greatly enhance its forward presence in the Pacific Ocean.
More recently, the latest Australia-US Ministerial Consultations ended with Australia agreeing to further expand the US military footprint in the country. The agreement includes more regular and longer US submarine visits to Australia, upgrading airbases in the north of the country and embedding US intelligence personnel in Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation.
According to an estimate in June by the Arms Control Association, the US has the world’s second-largest stockpile of nuclear warheads, with 5,244, compared to 410 for China. The US is also reportedly working with Japan to build a defence system to counter hypersonic missiles and recruiting allies to defend Taiwan in the event that Beijing resorts to the use of force to take the island.

With the US so aggressive and effective in forming alliances around the world to entrench its global military dominance, the rest of the world has much to fear from being crushed by the world’s superpower if its will is denied.

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In the run-up to next year’s US elections, many politicians are competing to be seen as the most hawkish on China despite the many costs and dangers of such a single-minded strategy. This can only be a recipe for instability. Even more worrying is that, despite being charged with 91 offences in four criminal cases so far, former president Donald Trump’s popularity is growing and he remains the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the 2024 US presidential election is likely to be a 2020 rematch between the unpopular incumbent Biden and Trump, who stands accused of conspiring to commit the greatest crime against democracy and overturn the legitimate outcome of an election. The prospect of such a rematch will not inspire confidence among many people in the US political system or in the quality of the voters who hand out the keys to the White House.

With such a combination of toxic politics in Washington and its obsession with global dominance, don’t we have a lot more to fear from the US than from peaceful China?

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is convenor of the Executive Council, a lawmaker and chairwoman of the New People’s Party