The exchange of consulate closings between China and the United States is the latest chapter in the growing tensions between the two main world powers, which are leading a relationship that has not worsened in recent years.
What are the main points of conflict between Beijing and Washington?
Beyond this diplomatic struggle, the trade war, the coronavirus and even possible military confrontations have so far been the keys to follow.
Washington demanded the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston (Texas, southern United States) on charges of espionage, considering that Beijing was using it to coordinate the arrival of students sent by the People’s Liberation Army to obtain information that would allow them to obtain a military advantage, and that visa fraud had been committed there.
The response from China, which denies the US complaints, is as expected: although there had been speculation about the possibility of ordering the closure of the US consulate in Wuhan or even Hong Kong, it will finally be that of Chengdu – a sub-provincial city which serves as the capital of the Chinese province of Sichuan – whoever is forced to end its operations.
2. Trade war
Tensions have been growing in recent months, but the relationship had been worsening since at least March 2018, when US President Donald Trump decided to impose tariffs on products imported from China to consider that the balance of trade between the two countries was unbalanced, starting a trade war that is still active.
Despite the fact that last January, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the “first phase” of an agreement was signed to resolve this conflict, the impact of the coronavirus has made it difficult for China to comply with the commitments made in it, so Trump recently assured that he was no longer thinking of a possible “second phase”.
But the dispute between the two countries transcends the commercial plane, as evidenced by the fact that the Chinese technological Huawei is in the eye of the hurricane since Washington considers it a danger to its national security on suspicion of its links to the country’s intelligence. Asian, although the company claims they are unfounded.
The US has launched an international campaign – for now, successfully in countries like the United Kingdom – to prevent Huawei from taking over the deployment of fifth-generation (5G) networks, and has imposed sanctions on the company that have prevented it, for example, use any Google service – such as the Android operating system- on their smartphones.
And, if in January it seemed that the aforementioned “first phase” of the agreement was the light at the end of the tunnel for the problems between Beijing and Washington, the management of Covid-19 has been in charge of nullifying all hope: the US has accused China to hide the virus in its early stages and to control the World Health Organization (WHO) in its favour.
So much so that Trump announced the departure of the WHO from his country, the most affected by far in the world according to official figures, while Beijing insists that they warned in time and that the lack of control of the coronavirus in the North American nation is precisely due to they ignored those warnings as they poorly managed the health emergency.
5. Military conflict?
Although China and the United States have not entered into any direct military conflict and it does not appear that it will take place anytime soon, Beijing’s maritime claims to the South China Sea have elicited a negative response from Washington, which is unwilling to yield the strategic control of the region.
Likewise, tensions between China and Taiwan continue to grow, since Beijing considers the reunification with the rest of the country of what it considers a rebel province to be inevitable and does not renounce doing so by force, while the United States, which protects it unofficially since tt has no ‘de jure’ diplomatic relations with Taipei, it continues to sell weapons to the island despite Chinese protests.
Washington already openly acknowledges that its objective is “to induce change” in China, considering that if it does not succeed, the world will not be able to consider itself safe, taking as an example the violation of human rights in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedoms in Hong Kong, matters on which both powers have also clashed.
Where Beijing sees protection of its sovereignty with Hong Kong’s national security law, Washington finds that the promises that led to the end of British colonialism have been breached, while China flatly denies that Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are victims of mass arrests, forced labor or population controls, as denounced by the USA.