Many argue that the United States‘ heightened focus on the growing Chinese threat is diverting attention away from other potential dangers. The U.S. shift towards Asia in response to China’s rise is seen as potentially neglecting Europe and the Middle East, concerns often voiced by European and Middle Eastern leaders and commentators.
Some Republican figures even suggest that the U.S. should limit military support to Ukraine in its efforts against Russia. Their reasoning is that the U.S. might need these resources to deter or confront China in Asia.
For someone like me, who grew up during the Cold War, these arguments seem somewhat peculiar. Back then, the Soviet Union was the primary adversary of the United States. The rivalry extended beyond Europe and Asia, encompassing regions like the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. While other adversaries existed, many, especially those with anti-Western ideologies, received support from Moscow.
In today’s era, the competition between the U.S. and China is not limited to regions bordering China. China has been actively expanding its influence across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific, and even Europe. Although the U.S. faces other adversaries, some are indirectly linked to China. Notably, China’s economic ties have provided a lifeline to U.S. adversaries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
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Unlike the Soviet Union, China isn’t supporting global revolutionary movements. Instead, it’s challenging the U.S. through economic means, making it difficult for Washington to rally allies against Beijing through sanctions or tariffs without causing harm to their economies. This predicament mirrors the Cold War era when many countries, even U.S. allies, sought to maintain good relations with both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
During both eras, the U.S. faced criticism from its allies for not providing sufficient assistance against immediate threats, while those allies were reluctant to support the U.S. against its primary adversary. This dynamic persists today.
However, the U.S. continues to prioritize Europe’s security due to concerns about Russia’s intentions and, increasingly, China’s influence in the region. Similarly, the U.S. maintains interest in Middle Eastern security, not just because of Iran’s activities but also due to China’s growing presence. In essence, regardless of concerns about other adversaries in various regions, China’s intentions are a global concern for the U.S.
In the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Chinese trade supports Moscow economically, and Chinese companies reportedly supply Russia with materials for its war in Ukraine. This support underscores that backing Ukraine doesn’t distract the U.S. from its competition with China. China views support for Russia as part of its rivalry with the United States.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict’s implications extend beyond the immediate parties involved and impact Sino-Western relations. Whether Russia or Ukraine emerges stronger, it’s likely to result in a Russia heavily dependent on China for economic support and, consequently, susceptible to Chinese influence.
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Supporting Ukraine is not a diversion from America’s concerns about China; it’s intertwined with them. Similarly, America’s apprehension about China doesn’t diminish its concerns for regions far from Beijing because China is actively involved worldwide. Just as with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, America’s competition with China today is global.