Nadim Koteich

The Twilight of an Old US in a New World

At the heart of both the Middle East and Europe, there have recently been several prominent several cases in point and turning points that underline the cold and hot war between Washington and China.

The United States found itself on the margins as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran concluded an agreement to normalize relations in Beijing, personally brokered by Chinese President Xi Jinping, highlighting the decline of US influence in the Middle East. This development not only affirms the growing importance of China’s role in the region, but also suggests the dawn of a new era in international relations.

China now plays a central role in shaping and directing global developments. Nothing attests to this fact more categorically than the Chinese president’s recent trip to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unfettered by the political implication of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Putin, Xi stressed the fact that the world is undergoing a period of change like no other we have seen in the past century.

In parallel with this political spectacle, China, Iran, and Russia - all at odds with the United States - conducted joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman as part of the “Maritime Security Belt-2023.” These exercises attest to the three countries’ growing political and military relations, and they send a message: a multipolar world that threatens unipolar US hegemony is taking shape.

Moreover, Putin hosting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and the efforts to reinforce the rapprochement between Syria and Türkiye, a NATO member, also reflect the ongoing challenges posed by Washington’s opponents.

Adeptly seizing the opportunity presented by the fact that the United States is busy dealing with the war between Russia and Ukraine, US rivals have used multilateral mediation to resolve and settle regional conflicts. By their strengthening diplomatic, political, and military coordination, these countries have shown themselves to be serious about confronting the US and redefining global geopolitics and the international balance of power in such a way that undermines the United States’ longstanding dominance on the global stage.

On the other hand, as China plays mediator in the Middle East and consistently challenges US influence on several political, technological, and economic matters, and while Russia strives to take substantial steps forward in the region to reinforce the idea that its war in Ukraine has not undermined its international status or its ability to multitask, Washington has focused on enhancing military and security partnerships with countries around China and engaged profoundly with the war in Ukraine.

Indeed, in an attempt to make up for China’s growing presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia revealed new details about the AUKUS agreement aimed at delivering nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, which has raised apprehension and resentment in China.

Furthermore, as a result of Washington’s ongoing efforts, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol have agreed to go beyond the disputes between their countries, committing to work closely together on addressing urgent security concerns in the region, such as North Korean missile tests and China’s growing influence. When the two men met in Tokyo, it was the first time a South Korean leader visited Japan in over a decade. They agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy” and settle a long-standing trade dispute tied to high-tech products required to manufacture semiconductors.

This political breakthrough is a significant development that doubtlessly worries Beijing. The latter would prefer to exploit animosity and tension among its neighbors, not watch on as Washington makes use of an opposite state of affairs.

It seems that the conflict between the United States and its opponents goes beyond mere symbolism, exchanges of political blows, and diplomatic theater. Russian Su-27 fighters’ recent downing a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea, as well as the US Army downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina in February, demonstrate the potential for unexpected clashes. Worse still, given the fragile balance between the competing countries, both incidents could give rise to military escalation.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief Doug Wade has recently sounded the alarm about the relationship between the United States and China. He warned that it is descending into a phase of markedly high friction, as Beijing sees the US as an obstacle on its path toward obtaining the global status it deserves. Wade also argues that though it would prefer to avoid it, China is ready for confrontation.

Amid the escalating political and military conflict between the United States and China, we have seen more and more indications that the economic links between the two countries are being severed. Historically, the two country’s shared economic interests have cooled their disputes and tensions. However, the decoupling of these two great powers’ economies is undermining a fundamental and complex stabilizing element of their multifaceted relationship.

According to the DHL Global Connectedness Index 2022, which provides a comprehensive overview of globalization and its trajectory, the United States and China are moving apart at an accelerating pace. This is evident in the significant decline in trade.

As this trend continues, China has reduced its holdings of US Treasury bonds to the lowest levels seen since the global financial crisis of May 2009. In fact, China’s holdings of US Treasury bonds have declined every month for the past six months. China held $859.4 billion in Treasury bonds in January, down from $867.1 billion the month before.

The developments of the past few weeks highlight the increasingly fast pace of global change. The United States is struggling to deal with the fact that new major players have emerged. It is finding it particularly difficult to face China, as well as the bold moves of both its friends and enemies. Meanwhile, a new era of international affairs is emerging - one that is marked by the remarkable pace at which the previous balance of power is disintegrating and sharp political twists and turns.

The challenge for the United States is how to chart a course that allows it to navigate through this complex and volatile environment, thereby reestablishing its status on the global stage or redefining the boundaries and features of this status in line with the newly emergent state of affairs.