CKGSB Americas partnered with Fair Observer to offer Live 360° – US-China Relations Through International Eyes, a panel discussion on international perceptions of the U.S.-China trade conflict on Jan 22 in New York, convening experts from around the globe for a discussion of the effects of elevated Sino-American trade tensions on the rest of the world.
The panel included scholars, diplomats and members of the media who represented points of view from Latin America, Africa, Europe and South Asia, each with a unique perspective on the topic. As one panelist described the situation, “The stage is set for the world to watch these two interdependent powers, who are locked in a symbiotic but unbalanced relationship, adjusting to new roles on the global stage.”
A major theme of the discussion was that the recent U.S.-China trade conflict put many nations around the world “between a rock and a hard place,” as they tried to appease a U.S. government that has become increasingly suspicious of Chinese ambitions abroad, especially when it comes to China’s efforts to export information and communications-technology infrastructure. An expert on Latin America cited the case of Brazil, which appears ready to contract with Chinese multinational firm Huawei to build out its nascent 5G telecommunications network, despite intense U.S. pressure to boycott the company, citing its compromising ties to the Chinese military.
Latin American countries have also increasingly severed their relationships with the Taiwanese government, a key U.S. ally, switching their allegiance to the government in Beijing, despite U.S. threats to withdraw economic aid in response. “In Latin America, they are trying to walk the line, having a security and political relationship with Washington, while benefiting from growing foreign direct investment from Beijing,” the expert said.
From the perspective of South Asian countries, the changing nature of U.S-China relations is particularly fraught. India and China fought a border war in 1962 and fears of Chinese hegemony in the region, girded by its growing ties to Pakistan, have pushed India into closer alliance with the U.S., Australia and Japan. At the same time, the Indian and Chinese economies are inextricably linked, and China could be an essential market for India as it attempts to develop a manufacturing sector that can provide jobs for a rapidly growing working population. “In India, there’s real fear, real paranoia about China,” said one panelist from the region.
An expert on Africa-China relations worried that such a decoupling could put African nations in a difficult place, as they have been benefiting from aggressive Chinese investment in infrastructure, but aspire to be connected with the societies and economies of the West.
The panelists expressed some fear that the U.S.-China conflict could result division of the global Internet into two halves, with the Chinese version operating with more top-down control of information flow, and an American version dominated by the products and services of its Silicon Valley tech giants, like Google and Facebook.
An expert representing the European point of view argued that leaders there are somewhat perplexed by the aggressive posture taken by the U.S. toward China, reasoning that it’s driven by fears that U.S. global military dominance will be undermined by a rising China. “Americans look at it with a military view, they see the China intimidating the countries in their periphery,” he said. “From the European point of view, the rise of China has been wholly beneficial in terms of creating wealth and reducing poverty.”