1st June 2023 – (Beijing) As anticipation builds for the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, speculations around the meeting between Chinese and US defence ministers are mounting. The U.S. has once again brought attention to China’s interception of a U.S. spy plane over the South China Sea, with the intention to promote the “China threat” theory and generate sensational talking points for the defence summit. Even though high-level engagements between the U.S. and China have resumed recently, the U.S.-China rivalry has intensified, driven by Washington’s new Cold War mindset that sees China as a competitor.

Following the first meeting of the National Security Commission under the 20th CPC Central Committee, which highlighted the need for China to be prepared for “worst-case and extreme-case scenarios,” experts are also emphasising the importance of being ready to handle such situations in China-U.S. relations. This comes as Washington’s China policy could take a more extreme turn as elections approach.

China has dismissed the recent U.S. military claim that an “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. spy plane occurred over the South China Sea. Chinese officials and experts argue that it was the U.S. that initiated provocative military operations near China in the first place. They assert that the U.S.’s extended close-in reconnaissance operations on China seriously violate China’s sovereignty security and pose a risk to maritime safety.

Furthermore, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on 13 China-based entities and individuals, accusing them of involvement in the international proliferation of equipment used for producing illicit drugs. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy in the U.S. have expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the sanctions. They argue that the sanctions are a severe violation of the legitimate rights and interests of the affected companies and individuals.

These recent events signal that Washington’s China policy, characterised by rivalry and confrontation, remains unaltered. From diplomacy to military to economy, mixed signals indicate that the US-China rivalry has become multi-dimensional and may intensify in the future.

The U.S.-China rivalry now spans a deeper and more multi-dimensional scope, from security to trade and politics. Experts are calling for preparedness for “possible extreme-case scenarios” such as those involving the Taiwan question and the South China Sea. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently chaired the first meeting of the National Security Commission under the 20th CPC Central Committee. He stressed the importance of being prepared to handle worst-case and extreme-case scenarios and being ready to weather “high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.”

Although U.S. President Joe Biden has recently hinted at a thaw in U.S.-China relations, high-level re-engagements have continued to grow, with trade and commerce interactions becoming increasingly apparent. However, the U.S.-China rivalry persists, fuelled by various forces within the US, including those representing the interests of the military-industry complex and those representing the interests of commerce and trade.

If the current U.S.-China policy remains unchanged, it will likely lead to a new Cold War landscape with fiercer confrontations in the future. This could result in a tragic situation in Asia or even globally, with increased divisions. As the world watches the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, there is hope that the U.S. and China can find a path to cooperation despite ongoing rivalry in some areas.

Experts such as Alicia García Herrero, chief economist for Asia at French investment bank Natixis, and Jorge Heine, Professor of International Relations at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, suggest that we are witnessing a Second Cold War. They argue that while there are differences between this Second Cold War and the first one, there are also strong similarities, such as elements of a nuclear arms race and aspects of ideological competition.

The U.S. has a clear advantage over China, thanks to a dense network of alliances built over decades. However, Beijing is responding with two major lines of action: building a close relationship with Russia and leveraging its influence in areas of the world where it has certain advantages over Washington, such as Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

China is also utilising more traditional diplomatic strategies to regain ground, as evidenced by Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh in December. One area with the potential to turn this new Cold War into a hot one is Taiwan. As the world keeps an eye on the unfolding tensions between the U.S. and China, only time will reveal the future of their rivalry.