A new Cold War has emerged with the US and China as the primary protagonists. The seeds were sown by the US determination to maintain its global hegemony in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the challenge posed to the US domination by China’s dramatic rise. In 1992, the US through a leaked Pentagon planning document stressed that its overarching strategic goal, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival … that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. … Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.” However, China’s meteoric rise in due course upset America’s long-term strategic planning.
Following the policies of economic reforms and opening to the outside world introduced by Deng Xiaoping, China’s economy took off. From 1978 to 2011, China maintained an average annual growth rate of nearly 10 per cent, thus, doubling its GDP after every seven years. By 2014, China’s GDP in purchasing power parity terms had surpassed that of the US. China’s rapid economic growth has also provided it with the resources to build up its military power at a fast pace.
China’s fast-developing economic and trade links worldwide have enabled it to increase its economic and political clout in Asia, the Persian Gulf region, Africa, and Latin America. The conciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China is the latest example of its growing diplomatic footprint in the Persian Gulf region. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched in 2013, aims at enhancing China’s economic and commercial links with Eurasian and African countries, including Nigeria, through trade and investment.
However, America, in the face of the challenge posed by a rapidly rising China, has employed all levers of hard and soft power at its disposal to slow down China’s progress and check the expansion of its power and influence, especially in the Sub-Saharan region. In a major departure from its slogans of free trade and economic competition, Washington has imposed far-reaching economic, commercial, and technological sanctions to slow down China’s economic growth and technological development.
In the context of the US-China rivalry, sub-Saharan Africa has become an increasingly important arena for both powers. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013, aims to enhance China’s economic and commercial links with African countries through trade and investment. The BRI has provided many African countries with much-needed infrastructure and investment, but it has also raised concerns about debt sustainability and China’s growing influence in the region.
The US, for its part, has sought to counter China’s influence in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018, the Trump administration unveiled a new Africa strategy, which focused on countering Chinese influence and promoting US economic interests. The strategy emphasized the importance of private sector investment and economic growth, and the US has pledged to invest $60 billion in the region over the next three years.
However, some analysts have questioned whether the US can effectively compete with China in sub-Saharan Africa. China has a significant head start, with decades of engagement and investment in the region, while the US has only recently begun to focus on Africa as a strategic priority. Moreover, the US has been criticized for focusing too narrowly on security and counterterrorism, rather than addressing the underlying economic and governance challenges that drive instability in many African countries.
We may not be wrong to say that, China and the US are caught in Thucydides’s trap, a term popularized by Graham Allison through his book, Destined for War, in which he argued that when an emerging power challenges the domination of an existing hegemon making the war between them almost inevitable because of the resultant structural stresses. America insists that China must fall in line with the rules-based order established by the US-led West after World War II to perpetuate its global domination. China wants the prevailing world order to be modified to accommodate its legitimate interests. Going by America’s anti-China policies of the past few years, a prolonged period of confrontation rather than conciliation is more likely. This confrontation can manifest itself in tensions, political strife, and localized proxy conflicts on such issues as Taiwan and territorial disputes in South China and East China Seas. Predictably, China has tilted in favor of Russia on the Ukraine war issue. Despite its painful implications, there may also be some decoupling of the economies of the two sides because of the hard American sanctions against China. However, a full-fledged war between the
US and China is unlikely due to the severe consequences it would have. The world needs to find a new balance amidst this new Cold War. Unfortunately, this balance is tipping towards a power-dominated political environment with international law taking a backseat. The UN’s authority on strategic security issues is dwindling, and alliances are shifting.
In such a chaotic world, the ultimate guarantee of security would be the power of states and their allies. Sub-Saharan countries must build up their respective national powers while prioritizing political stability, economic and technological growth, and strategic cooperation with China and other friendly countries to enhance its security and economic prosperity.
They must not sit idly by and watch the US-China rivalry unfold. Instead, they must position themselves strategically and take advantage of the opportunities presented by this new global order. Sub-Saharan political leaders must realize that their country’s growth and prosperity depend on their ability to navigate the global political and economic landscape successfully.
One way for them to achieve this goal is by developing strong partnership with China. China is the world’s second-largest economy, and its Belt and Road Initiative offers African countries, a unique opportunity to access Chinese investment and technology. Sub-Saharan African countries must leverage China’s economic and diplomatic clout to secure a better position in the global economy.
Furthermore, Sub-Saharan African countries must focus on political stability, which is essential for attracting foreign investment and maintaining economic growth. Their respective governments must work to address the root causes of political instability, including corruption, poverty, and inequality, to achieve sustained economic growth.
In conclusion, Sub-Saharan African countries must be proactive in navigating the new global order dominated by the US-China rivalry. The region must build up its own national power while prioritizing political stability, economic and technological growth, and strategic cooperation with China and other friendly countries. With the right policies and strategies, they can position themselves to become major players in the global economy, enhancing their regional security and prosperity in the process.