The US has been continuously promoting the strategy of escalating major power games in recent years as it views China as a vital challenge. After the US withdrawal and debacle in Afghanistan, a growing number of observers tend to believe Washington will tighten its focus on Beijing.
They point out that Washington's strategic contraction in the Middle East is aimed at shoring up core strengths to focus on China. As The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote with concern in his column, "What Comes After the War on Terrorism? War on China?" Apparently, the US needs to think carefully about its competition strategy of major powers.
This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Looking back at the adjustment of the US global strategy over the past two decades, the major change has seen a shift from counter-terrorism to competition among global major powers.
When US President Joe Biden defended the "drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan" in July, he put it bluntly that Washington needs to "focus on shoring up America's core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations." Some analysts say that it signals that the withdrawal could be aimed at mobilizing major forces to launch a more violent attack against China.
The overall withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan indicates that the country has basically completed its global strategic adjustments that it had over the past two decades. It means that the strategic competition between major powers has once again become the center of the US global strategy. Due to the move, the world is in danger of returning to the Cold War era. For the US, it will have to invest more strategic resources to deal with its self-made increasingly fierce strategic rivalries with major powers.
But the US hegemony has been relatively weakened. The country faces difficulties maintaining strategic balance in response to strategic competition among the great powers. As the gap between US hegemonic power and its goals gradually widens, Washington will need to rely more heavily on its allies and partners to maintain its hegemony. However, given the complex interests between US allies or partners and China, it is unlikely that the former will blindly follow Washington to check and balance Beijing. It means that Washington needs to mobilize more domestic resources to compete with other great powers. But in recent years, Washington has significantly prioritized domestic affairs. This is making it difficult to forge a consensus in the country on sustained strategic competition among major powers.
Even though the strategic competition between China and the US has intensified, both sides are keenly aware of the importance to prevent conflict. This year, the two countries have arranged two high-level bilateral meetings so far. And despite all kinds of divergence shown in these meetings, China and the US still have emerged with some consensus. The most important one is the need for both sides to manage competition and avoid conflict. On Friday, the Chinese and US heads of state had a phone conversation again after almost seven months. This once again demonstrates the consensus between the two sides on managing competition.
For the US, to engage in a great power competition is time-consuming, costly, and of limited strategic effect. The relationship among major powers nowadays is not what it used to be. Thus, with both interests and conflicts coexisting, the strategy of competing to suppress will plunge Washington into long-lasting consumption of its own strength.
What is more dangerous is that the risk of conflict between them will also increase significantly as the tensions between great powers continue to intensify. This will eventually undermine the US' strategic strength and its hegemony.
The world will become more pluralistic in the future. The great power relations will not be able to completely dominate global affairs. The US' belief in great power competition is clearly out of date. Washington needs to think about its strategy of great power competition with caution.