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Escalating Conflicts Between China and the US: Not Just About Trump’s Reelection?

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe gave some rays of hope for the emergence of a more close-knit international order, wherein countries cooperate against a common enemy — in this case a fast-spreading pandemic. However, the rays of hope were covered by clouds of a self-centered and competitive international order, as countries actively became more inward looking and conflicts across several lines increased in the system.

China became the centre of myriads of conflicts with several countries ranging from the Philippines to Malaysia to Vietnam to India to the US. Escalation between the US and China has heightened to the extent that the US asked the Chinese Consulate in Houston to close. This comes at a time when China and the US have been at loggerheads over everything ranging from trade to 5G networks.

Amidst these deteriorating situations, a number of plausible reasons have been mentioned in IR scholarship to understand why the escalation is taking place at this particular juncture in international relations. These include electoral needs for US President Donald Trump to display to an audience going to vote in November this year, that an America under him is not soft, weak or accommodative to American rivals; the Thucydides Trap over a belated war; and the possibilities of a return to bipolarity on the lines of what was witnessed during the Cold War.

The first line of reasoning behind the heightened levels of conflict is that the US will have its presidential elections in November this year, and it makes sense for the Tump administration to make a scapegoat out of China to symbolise American toughness.

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