A global game of power shift and balance is unfolding in front of us. Isolationism, nationalism and autocratic behaviors are undermining the liberal world order that the U.S. set up and promoted since the end of WWII. International treaties are unraveled. The old-fashioned dichotomy of “us vs. them” is revived. Hate and intercultural conflicts are on the rise. And several global hotspots are in an explosive mode.
A new global check-and-balance scenario and an uncanny showdown of the old-fashioned imperialism is on display. President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping (and perhaps Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un), each having a different worldview, may clash head-on over almost every single issue of geopolitics, economic interests, values and ideologies.
Two potential collisions between the US and China and Iran may change the course of history. First, the debilitating U.S. trade war has already slowed down China’s progress and adversely impacted the global economy, resulting in increased trade conflict and higher commodity prices around the world. Second, the U.S.-Iran conflict, initiated by President Trump’s pulling out of the internationally supported Iran nuclear deal and imposing unprecedented sanctions on Iran, presents an ominous threat to the Middle East and global community. Consider the followings:
1. The economies of the U.S. and China are highly intertwined; hence, a trade war will have negative consequences for both countries. Most American chains and brands, such as Starbucks, Hilton, KFC, McDonald's, Nike, Ford, and so on, have become a part of the infrastructures and people’s lives in every major city in China.
2. Most Chinese and Iranians are fond of America and its popular brands, educational institutions, and entertainment industry. Indeed, American soft power and its immense cultural/economic influence is quite evident in both countries, albeit more in China than in present Iran.
3. Within the private Chinese companies, the impression is that the U.S. governing elites are against China due to its rapid progress toward becoming a major economic superpower; therefore, posing a significant challenge to the U.S. global hegemony and dominance.
4. Chinese telecom giants ZTE and Huawei are also facing pressure and scrutiny from the U.S. that further complicates the U.S.-China relationship. For instance, the iPhone may not allow access to the extremely popular Chinese social media WeChat app and its services. A China without WeChat is unthinkable because all social interactions, banking and shopping are done via this popular medium.
5. Moreover, the U.S. has significantly tightened issuing entry visas to Chinese scholars and students, which adversely impacts the U.S.-Chinese relationship and cooperation. Reportedly, during the 2017-18 academic year, over 360,000 Chinese students were studying in the U.S. universities, contributing nearly $13 billion to the U.S. economy. Likewise, the US has made it nearly impossible for Iranians to obtain visas.
6. To enhance China’s presence and leadership in Asia, President Jinping has unveiled a far-reaching global economic strategy, Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to promote development and cooperation among the Asian and African countries and beyond.
7. As a signatory to the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, China is dependent on Iranian oil. President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the hard-fought and negotiated Iran nuclear deal and imposition of severe and crippling international economic sanctions on Iran has added tension to an already volatile Middle East and a divisive global community.
8. If those in power do not change course and de-escalate these conflicts, not only we may face a prolonged economic collision between China and the U.S., but also a prolonged military collision with Iran, which will unleash unforeseen devastation in the Middle East and turmoil around the world.
In a highly interconnected, interdependent and globalized world, the United States can indeed play a crucial and detrimental role in forging a more peaceful, collaborative, balanced, and sound international relations — with China, Iran, and other nations — based on mutual respect, cooperation, and understanding. In other words, a global economic leader must lead by example. As Charles Darwin once said: It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.