Will the U.N. Prevent Conflict Between the U.S. and China?

In the run-up to the 75th Founding Anniversary of the United Nations, various sectors have expressed their concern for the seemingly growing political and economic conflict between the United States and China. The ongoing trade war saw both countries hitting each other with millions of dollars worth of tariffs and other sanctions that hurt each other’s economic footing.

U.S.-China Trade War

The impact of the US-China trade war will adversely affect large corporations and even the smaller ones that are involved in the vast commercial networks between the two superpowers. These companies range from the food and manufacturing sector, technology, aviation, online retail, and other product and service lines. Of course, other third-party firms that provide some sort of service or component to these business and service lines are also bound to suffer, and they already have.

For example, in the recent past, hundreds of containers full of cardboard shipping boxes of China-made commodities arrive unhampered daily on American soil. With higher levies on imports, some Chinese companies have slowed down their export operations. This hurts the Chinese economy when multiplied by the number of firms that make the U.S. market their primary source of income. The reverse is true when the Chinese government imposed new taxes on U.S. imported goods.

On many occasions, the United States has accused China of unfair trade practices, outright intellectual property theft, and even economic or industrial espionage, which are detrimental to the growth and profit of American industries. At one point, the U.S. had also protested China’s alleged currency manipulation to gain an unfair trade advantage. While the trade talks go on between the two economic giants, other troubles seem to be brewing in the near distance.

Is World War III Coming?

In the past few months, the U.S. military, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and its other allies in the Asia-Pacific region, have been conducting a series of military exercises. Multilateral naval exercises have been conducted in and around the disputed South China Sea to simulate blockades on strategic points. Other exercises were focused on amphibious assaults on islands by marine and naval forces as if to show how the allies will push away Chinese military personnel from many natural and artificially built islands in the area.

China has repeatedly called these exercises a form of provocation and has, on more than one occasion, directed U.S. military aircraft to leave what the Chinese navy has called “Chinese territorial airspace.” As expected, the American aircraft’s pilot rebutted the Chinese assertion and claimed that they are patrolling international airspace, an area that can be peacefully accessed by all countries. Other countries like the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam have also had standing disputes with China about certain areas and islands around the South China Sea.

Are these military exercises just mere shows of force, or are these rehearsals for a battle that is sure to come in a few years’ time, or perhaps sooner? During the recent U.N. General Assembly, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte even reiterated the international arbitral ruling favoring his country’s claim to the West Philippine Sea, as opposed to China’s dominating claim to a vast nautical area bounded by what China had declared as the Nine-Dash Line. This imaginary line covers at least 90 percent of all the seas in that contested region.

While none would wish for a world war to start in the Asia-Pacific, many experts have warned that the signs of a head-on collision in the future are already evident. At present, the two superpowers are already on opposite sides of another issue: the global pandemic.

Trump’s Accusation and Call for Sanctions

On September 22, U.S. President Donald Trump openly called for sanctions against China for allegedly misleading the entire world about what it knew about the novel coronavirus. Trump referred to the cause of the ongoing pandemic as the “China Virus”. In his own words, Trump said that “we must hold accountable the nation that unleashed this plague onto the world: China”. ; He also called out China’s alleged involvement in acts that lead to environmental destruction. Trump wore a red tie, perhaps symbolizing his aggressive stance against China not only on the pandemic issue but including other political and economic matters.

Xi Jinping’s Response and Call for Cooperation 

For his part, China’s Xi Jinping warned against “any attempt at politicizing the issue or stigmatization” of the COVID-19 pandemic. He called for resolving disputes through dialogue and negotiation while reiterating that China does not intend to enter into a “Cold War or a hot one with any country”. ; His blue necktie seemed to signify China’s peaceful stance during the U.N. General Assembly.

Way Forward

united nations
united nations

Will the United Nations serve its purpose or original mandate of promoting global peace and cooperation? Time will tell if the international body can collectively prevent the winds of war from blowing and, at the same time, strengthen multilateral ties to combat the novel coronavirus. If war is averted and the superpowers lead the way to defeating the COVID-19 virus by producing a safe, effective vaccine, perhaps peace and prosperity can be attained in the years to come not only for the U.S. and China but for all nations of the world.

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