China, the United States and Russia are the three most powerful countries in terms of both military might and economic power in the world. The United States as a de facto superpower is alarmingly concerned over China’s intentions to challenge its hegemony and assert coercive influence on the rest of the world; undermining American global dominance. Russia, on the other hand, is not compatible to challenge these archrivals economically but poses a security threat to the United States and its European allies. Russia detests NATO’s growing presence in close vicinity to its backdoor; hence, it is building up a hefty military presence along its border with Ukraine. President Putin is pressuring Kiev’s pro-Europe leadership not to officially join an alliance; Russia considers it a security threat and a destabilizing factor in its proximity. Russia and the United States do not see eye to eye in relation to abundant issues, Ukraine definitely tops the list. President Biden in his most recent one-on-one virtual meeting with Putin has directly warned him of harsh sanctions if the latter chooses to invade Ukraine. As of now, the extent of Russian intents is unclear, but according to some American intelligence reports, a possible Russian invasion is extremely likely as early as January 2022. In respect to Ukraine, President Putin is playing a tit-for-tat policy with the United States and Europe; he demands assurances from the U.S. in dissuading Ukraine from joining the NATO alliance, in return for retreating from its borders. Russia initially annexed Crimea from Ukraine without any major fight and resistance in 2014.
The trio has allies and nemesis in the region that are either buying customers in arms or closely dependent on the economic assistance flowing from these powerhouses. The world order and economy greatly depend on the good equation between these powers, the United States is the largest trading partner that of China, while Russia’s massive gas reserves fuel Europe and it is an important player in the closely contested energy market. These intertwined economic interests will be the only deterrence in pushing away these powers from an all-around military standoff, towards pragmatic diplomacy in resolving their major regional and global disagreements. China on the other hand, has an unprecedented overreach to markets from Africa to Asia and North America to Europe, Chinese ingenuity and cheap labor products cater to a network of diverse tastes and demands around the world. The restructuring and modern indoctrination of the Chinese economy after 1978, revolutionized the way the country was perceived and paved the way for the current rapid economic growth and expansion, turning the PRC into a force to reckon with for the de facto powers, the United States and Russia.
The Sino – Russian relations improved after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian federation in 1991. Both China and Russia enjoy close relations militarily, economically and politically, supporting each other on various global issues. Russia fully supports the Chinese claim on the whole of the South China Sea region and expresses willingness to form a formal military alliance with the country aimed at countering the United States. The United States, on the contrary, considers China its only geopolitical and geo-economical rival in the 21st century, and tackling Chinese rising power is a top national security concern for the Washington policymakers as we speak.
Considering the changing dimensions of global politics, the need for asserting economic and political influence over adjacent and distant weaker and smaller states are used as a coercive foreign policy tool for different reasons. China considers Taiwan an integral and inseparable part of the Chinese mainland and warns of annexing the state by force if necessary. The United States, on the other hand, recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign state and formidable ally, obligated to defend Taiwan in the face of any Chinese unilateral aggression. President Xi of China has repeatedly warned the United States to refrain from interfering in Chinese internal affairs and keep its hand off Taiwanese issues for its own good. China lays claim on most of the South China Sea territory including several disputed islands also claimed by many other nations including Taiwan.
“According to the U.S. energy and information agency, it is estimated that the South China Sea holds about fourteen trillion barrels of natural gas and sixteen to thirty-three billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves”. This estimate has enticed the CCP to pursue a more aggressive approach towards apprehending the islands and benefit from this vast economic opportunity.
No doubt, the requisition of Taiwan will also open up an enormously lucrative maritime crossing deeper into the world for China in the South China Sea, in addition to inheriting a market cap of over billions in Taiwanese remarkably successful industries.
The scope of any military confrontation between these powers will have devastating consequences on the world economy, and act as a prelude for multi-dimensional warfare, posing danger to the very existence of humankind. The end of America’s longest war in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of its troops from the region, indicate a change in Washington’s policy to counter Chinese and Russian influence more aggressively and prepare for an imminent threat challenging the American hegemony and power in the world by China.
In retrospect, prior to Chinese world domination and growing ambition of surpassing the U.S. economy and military might, all major economic powers were either allies or subservient to American influence, it is, however, the first time that an adversary, not a historical ally is closing in on the U.S. and its economy is bigger than all the preceding economies combined. These statistics are giving Washington all the right reasons to worry about China in the long run and contain the threat before it is too late. The consistency in Chinese economic growth and the abundance of cash at its disposal is helping the CCP to exert political influence on nations in the receiving hand. China for instance, under the one belt one road initiative, is generously pumping loans to many governments in building infrastructure for its mega projects, knowing for a fact that the client states will ultimately default on Chinese loans, and become prone to Chinese political coercion in the long run.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 provided China a golden opportunity to focus on modernizing its military structures and prepare to tackle any direct military confrontation with the United States on the issue of Taiwan. China has tremendously reformed its military force in the last 20 years, and it is now capable to retaliate against any foreign adversary challenging its autonomy and interest in mainland China and elsewhere.
President Xi of China once told Donald Trump “China’s civilization is 5,000 years old and we call ourselves descendants of the dragon”. This Chinese narrative indicates that the dragon has woken up and it is time that the Chinese takeover and its ambitious world stardom are appreciated and honored by the rest. Meanwhile, the United States and China need each other for economic sustainability, and officials in both countries understand the urgent need to replace retaliatory remarks with reconciliatory rapprochement and find common grounds for better communication and increased diplomatic approach.
The United States accuses China of systematic currency manipulation, indulging in unfair trade practices; as well as, stealing American intellectual property, robbing American manufacturers and businesses of billions in profits. The country is also under scrutiny for Uighur minority treatment and subjection to forced concentration camps, labeled as genocide and human rights violations by the west; China strongly denies these accusations and warns the United States of meddling in its internal affairs and undermining its sovereignty. The Biden administration in an unprecedented move announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. This move by the white house has severely angered the Chinese government, warning of proportionate retaliation in response.
The recent failure in American diplomacy to establish an acceptable status quo in Afghanistan, and unilaterally handing over the country to the Taliban, is creating resounding alarms for the region’s future security. The Russian president blames the United States for the prevailing situation in Afghanistan, where the reincarnation of international terrorists the likes of ISIS, will be an imminent threat to the Central Asian Republics’ security next to Russia, China carries the same sentiments, questioning American abrupt departure from Afghanistan as malicious and intending to turn the country into a breeding ground for Uighur minority rebels under the flagship of Taliban.
In conclusion, China, Russia and the United States are inseparable parts of the same puzzle, where close cooperation between the three on the global stage guarantees durable peace and stability for the rest of the world. The possibility of any military confrontation between the United States, China, and Russia is likely to happen in low profile skirmishes in buffer states, and given the circumstances, an outbreak of a full-scale nuclear war is very unlikely and the rhetoric will be limited to imposing occasional economic restraints and sanctions on each other.