Criticizing China’s measures taken in domestic affairs such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong, or the Taiwan issue; calling for more cooperation in investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 virus; referring to China’s threats to security interests of NATO members due to Beijing’s growing influence and global policy, were among the points raised in the final statements issued at the G7 and NATO summits. In addition, the Group of Seven agreed on the idea of B3W (Build Back Better World) which, according to a White House statement, is a platform for investing in the infrastructure of developing countries and improving their lives, which will need more than 40 billion dollars by 2035.
On the other hand, during this trip, Mr. Biden tried to demonstrate all the principles that he adheres to in foreign policy; during the trip, he called for unity across the Atlantic, cooperation against common threats, belief in international institutions, human rights, promotion of democracy and countering undemocratic governments (according to US leaders, of course), and a gesture of support for weak countries, and in one word, “full-fledged cosmopolitanism ready for war.”
Now the question is, what are the components of strategic competition with China and what factors are more important in this action and reaction than other factors?
From a series of statements by officials, articles and policies of the American think tanks and Chinese policy, it appears that the US administration has put competition with China at the top of its agenda: investment in infrastructure and technological advances on issues such as artificial intelligence, the new generation of the Internet and Integrated circuits (interpreted as the new industrial revolution). The spirit dominating over both areas referred to by US statesmen, confronting authoritarian rule and failing to promote it around the world is in a way interpreted as protecting democracy. As the US Secretary of State has commented over the term “global competition between democratic and authoritarian technologies”.
On the other hand, in addition to official statements that China opposes playing with the sum of zero or selective US multilateralism, Chinese experts are increasingly asking the question, “Which system of government has worked best?” The head of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Shanghai Fudan University recently said in a statement that China’s appointive-selective system is better than the Western selective model, and that it is time for the West to reconsider its governance.
The B3W idea mentioned above has been agreed to counter the China Belt-Road Initiative, and is also mentioned in the White House statement. However, some G7 leaders, such as the French president and the German chancellor, have not seen the goal as confrontation with China. The Belt-Road Initiative is an idea of the President of China, which has been on the agenda since 2013 as China’s economic driver. So far, 200 agreements have been signed between China and 138 countries and 30 international organizations in the form of this idea, and 136 billion dollars has been China’s direct investment in related projects for eight years. The US administration and its allies are concerned about the comprehensive (economic, political and cultural) dependence of partner countries on China on this initiative and the promotion of authoritarian rule.
Establishment of railways from various Chinese cities to European and Central Asian countries, investment in infrastructure projects in the Persian Gulf region, investment in oil and gas projects, especially in the periphery of Iran, completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, construction of ports in Sri Lanka and Greece With long-term leases, road and rail links with East Asian countries, infrastructure projects in Africa, and much more, are among China’s measures within the framework of Belt-Road Initiative. It is important to point out that the geostrategic and geo-economics position of Iran can help our country to play a greater role in this idea, especially in the transportation routes from East to West; however, it depends on several factors, including stable foreign relations, a long-term and strategic view of the country’s decision-makers, and the removal of barriers to cooperation with foreign companies.
In the field of technological competition, artificial intelligence and integrated circuits play a greater role than others. China’s investment of 35 billion dollars to build those circuits by 2020, set targets in the Fourteenth Five-Year Development Plan to allocate 7% of the GDP to R&D over the next five years and allocation of 380 billion dollars to that sector in 2020, further reveals the coordinates of strategic competition between the parties. In this regard, the role of Taiwan as the largest chip producer in the world with 51.5% of global production, shows the importance of the issue of Taiwan along with issues related to the geopolitical position of the island and China’s intention to implement a unified China policy and return Taiwan to the mainland.
Accordingly, investment in infrastructure and technological advances are the two main components of competition between the parties, and in each of them, without the support of US allies, this competition will lead to failure for Washington; the support that the Biden administration needs in the Pacific, East Asia and Europe at the same time. Since taking power, Biden’s administration has had the virtual summit of the Quad (India-US-Australia-Japan) summit, hosted by the Prime Minister of Japan, and a recent visit to draw attention to the cooperation of allies on its agenda. In addition to the allies, factors such as improving the world economy and leaving behind the negative effects of Covid-19, overcoming domestic problems, full support of US allies in this competition due to economic and trade ties, the rise of populism in different countries, especially in European countries and the like are effective; but above all, three main factors can be listed as follows:
- Stability and long-term impact of US foreign decisions: Support of the US House and Senate for the US administration’s decisions on foreign relations reflects the will and power of the United States to implement international agreements. It is as if the experience of the Iran nuclear deal and the US unilateral withdrawal from the deal have raised concerns among US allies about the stability of the deal with Washington. Allied hope is Mr. Biden’s long experience in the US legislative system.
- China-Russia rapprochement, deepening ties: The NBC aired an interview with Vladimir Putin prior to the Russian and US presidents meeting, during which the reporter asked questions several times to extract anti-Chinese rhetoric from Putin’s remarks; but the effort was met with “confirmation of Moscow-Beijing strategic relations” and “China posing no threat” from Putin. Over the past few years, the Chinese threat to Russia, especially in Central Asia, has been addressed by Western think tanks. Although complete and 100% unity and friendship is not conceivable in international relations, so far no sign of Moscow-Beijing dispute has been revealed and at least some disputes have been managed. Former US Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work said in March 2021 that close cooperation between Russia and China in artificial intelligence was a serious alarm for the United States.
- The dual policy and China’s quest for self-sufficiency: Despite China’s great benefit from global market integration and the adoption of the open-door policy and reforms in the late 1970s, at key points dependence on imports of some essential goods (agricultural products), technological dependence (largest importer of global integrated circuits or the need for joint research and development) and subsequent foreign sanctions and tariffs (such as sanctions against ZTE, Huawei, or tariffs on products imported and exported to and from the United States) have created problems for China. Therefore, since the summer of 2020, dual-cycle politics has been on the agenda as the governing spirit of the country’s development policies. Accordingly, reliance on domestic capabilities will be implemented as China continues its open door and reform policies, with some areas such as the Yangtze River Delta (including Shanghai and Jiangxi, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces in east of China) as the junction of the international market and domestic market will play a role.
In conclusion, as was noted, investment in infrastructure and technology will be the two main elements of China-US strategic competition for at least the next ten years, using issues such as human rights, developments in the South China Sea, or media pressure on some domestic issues. A tool will be used to slow down the movement of the parties. Addressing Iran’s threats and opportunities from this competition requires a separate and detailed study, but it suffices to say: recognizing domestic capabilities and the possibility of exploiting upstream agreements and documents in Iran-China relations (such as the Comprehensive 25-Year Cooperation Document of the two countries or the cooperation agreement within Belt-Road Initiative) can affect securing the national interests of Iran.