The world is going to have a sigh of relief after the US elections. High hopes are pinned on the Biden administration for reducing the confrontation between the United States and China.
It is expected that with the change of the US President, the number of new anti-Chinese initiatives would considerably decrease. Under Trump, a significant part of such initiatives concerned the military sphere. The American ships and aircraft were regularly spotted in disputed areas, which the PRC considers to be its territory. The new U.S. administration is likely to abandon an offensive approach on borderlands – and thereby reduce the risk of an accidental armed conflict between the great powers.
However, the desire of the “Chinese Joe” on its own, of which he already has much less over the years, is not enough for the normalization of US-China relations. The legacy that Joe Biden will receive after assuming the presidency will not allow him to change the current American strategy only slightly adjust its tactics. Biden is likely to take a more cold-blooded approach to accounting American interests and emphasize more in his discourse on human rights. However, such changes will not play a significant role in the confrontation between two superpowers with strikingly different systems, and neither Biden, nor anyone else can ignore this fundamental fact.
The US-China confrontation has fundamental reasons and will not disappear in the foreseeable future. Today technological progress becomes the main dimension in the stand-off between great powers.
All of China’s recent foreign policy actions demonstrate that Beijing has no intention to conduct any overseas military operation if the issues do not directly affect China’s national security. The Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea do not directly affect the U.S. national interests, and serves as a pretext, but not a reason, for an active containment policy of Washington. Moreover, the nuclear potentials of the two sides are not comparable. The current rules and procedures that form world trade and international system are beneficial to the PRC and contribute to its development. Today, it is the U.S. that is not satisfied with the shifting world order. Washington tries to rewrite international law and customs in international trade in order to restore its post WWII status quo and contain Chinese expansion.
Anyway, the U.S maintains its current hegemonic position, and China is a catching power and is largely obliged to play according to the current American rules. Beijing faced strong American retaliatory measures in the midst of its technological revolution.
In many civilian technologies, like Huawei’s 5G development, new magnetic transport, the creation of a quantum supercomputer, in the space sector China is ahead of the United States. However, the application of these technologies in the military sphere is still far away. Meanwhile, the Americans maintain their leading position in the military sphere. As a global weapons factory, the United States has undertaken all the significant technology developments in recent years. All these technologies were tested on the battlefield by the American armed forces or by countries that purchase US-made weapons. China, in its turn, remains dependent on US patents in the fields of electronic products and microprocessors, which ensures further US leadership. An effective system of public and private investments in research, development and engineering in the USA allows maintaining its advantage in the medium term.
The number of patents registered in China today is not inferior to that of Western countries. There are more Chinese patents in many areas. However, Beijing lags far behind in nanotechnology, base to the sixth technological order, where the United States still holds the leading position.
In some spheres where Beijing has shown significant breakthroughs in recent years, the Chinese progress is not competitive enough to American technologies, like, for example, in the space. Talking not about the speed of expansion, but about the level of technology and the scale of the exploration of near-earth space, the Americans retain the leadership, while the Chinese are currently breaking in their technologies.
In those areas where the R&D factor is of decisive importance, such as microprocessors, aerospace, medicine, biotechnology, the US advantage is great and will remain for a long time. In such areas like network technologies, China has a fair chance of leading, due to the huge capacity of the Chinese market.
Beijing is taking significant strategic steps in this direction steadily increasing the level of investment in R&D. China’s technology intelligence is extremely effective today and is a key division of China Intelligence Services. Moreover, many large Chinese corporations have private technology intelligence units. China, de facto has access to a significant part of the advanced technological developments in the West. In the long term, such a policy will provide China with technological parity. This will significantly worsen the leadership position of the United States, weakening the global influence of its high-tech industries.
As a result, the intensifying competition in the margin markets is making the clashes between the USA and the PRC almost inevitable. Therefore, there is a growing need for Beijing to achieve military-technical parity. China needs not only to increase its military spending to the U.S. level, but also to maintain this level for a long period.
China has the second largest defense spending in the world after the United States (about $ 686 billion in 2020). In 2020 the Chinese authorities intended to increase spending on national defense by 6.6%, to about $ 178.8 billion. As follows from the country’s draft budget for 2020, the growth rate was the lowest in almost 30 years. Moreover, today Beijing is facing the problem of low efficiency of the civilian technologies transfer to the military sphere.
Thus, it is precisely technological rivalry that is the fundamental aspect of the confrontation between the United States and China. It is necessary for each party to disrupt the development of computing power and networking solutions.
As the nuclear weapon was invented during the Cold War stand-off, the current technological race will have an indelible impact on the entire humanity and will significantly shape its future. In particular, the breakthrough development of technology will change the future warfare. Today’s armed conflicts are already waged with the mass use of drones, smart ammunition, and anti-missile defense systems capable of hitting an abundance of targets. All this requires an appropriate technological base and important financial investments.
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