Battle of China and United States: Indonesia’s Position

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

Deteriorating relationship between the two giants, United States and China, has become a topic of conversation around the world. Starting from the Trade War, accusing each other of the cause of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Hong Kong Security Law until accusations of technology theft, are some of the confrontations that have occurred between the two giants. At least until now there have been five wars between the United States and China, namely:

1. Trade War: increasing in import duty tariffs
2. South China Sea War: fighting for influence of the South China Sea
3. Hong Kong War: loss of Hong Kong’s democracy to China’s national security law
4. Technology Wars: competition for 5G technology
5. Space War: the competition for the exploration of Mars

The heat of these two giants is closely related to the World Hegemonic Transition or the shift in the axis of world power. The United States as a superpower or world ruler is threatened by China. The world hegemony transition is closely related to the ‘Thucydides Trap’ by Graham Allisson, Professor of Harvard Kennedy School. Indonesia needs to pay serious attention to this issue, especially in the South China Sea and other impacts that are indirectly caused.

In this paper I will discuss the United States-China World Hegemony Transition, the “Thucydides Trap” and Indonesia’s position in the competition between these two giants in the energy and economy sector. Why is this important? Because these two giants are indirectly very influential for our country.

Between 2 Giants: ‘Thucydides Trap’

World hegemonic Transition or world domination shifting can easily be understood as a confrontation between ‘Ruling Power’ or the ruler and ‘Rising Power’ or the threat. The world hegemony transition is closely related to the ‘Thucydides Trap’ which was mentioned by Graham Allison [1]. The term is taken from ‘Thucydides’ a historian who wrote the Peloponnesian Wars. The Peloponnesian War occurred as a result of the rise of Athens which threatened Sparta as the ‘Ruling Power’. This war lasted quite a long time, taking a lot of casualties which made Sparta and Athens equally destroyed. This war also changed history and gave rise to a new power, namely the Kingdom of Macedonia which under the leadership of Alexander the Great became one of the greatest conquerors in history.

“It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”
— Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

In historical data compiled by Graham, there have been at least 16 world hegemonic transition, 12 of 16 ended in war or were trapped. Competition from the United States and China is entering its 17th transition. One of the most famous transitional events was the Cold War between Russia and the United States, fortunately there was no war. Transitions that did not end in war were predominantly economic.

Between 2 Giants: China’s Rising Power

The rise of China as a challenger to America is very interesting to observe. China transformed into a giant who woke up from his sleep and shook the world. The French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte predicted the rise of China 200 years ago and his predictions are now proven. There are at least 3 phases of China’s state reform. Starting from a poor country that relies on agriculture (agricultural country). Then it became copycat country and the last one was innovation country.

“Let China Sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world,”
— Napoleon Bonaparte

The rise of China began when Deng Xiaoping implemented Yi Guo Liangce which turned China’s economy into a capitalist and liberate Chinese people to do business [2]. As a result, the mushrooming of private industries has supported China’s economy. Supported by a resilient and cheap workforce, China has succeeded in flooding the world with its products that are much cheaper. In 2014, China had succeeded in balancing America’s GDP and by 2024 it was predicted that it would beat America to become the country with the number one economy in the world.

Between 2 Giants: If War Happens

“The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century”

— President Barrack Obama

The potential for a conflict between the two giants that could escalate into military aggression has caught the attention of many parties. President Donald Trump has openly expressed his hatred for China, even declaring China endangering America’s national security. China is also not standing by and claims America is making unreasonable statements. When it comes to military power, America is superior to China. America ranks first in military power in the world while China ranks third behind Russia. Yet China has an advantage in active military personnel and naval power over America.

Looking at the military strategy of the two giants, China seems to have prepared this for a long time with the Island Chain Strategy. The Island Chain Strategy is divided into three stages and aims to keep the battlefield as far away as possible from mainland China. The first stage is to revolutionize Chinese people’s liberation army into a more modern one with capable tools and strategies, to build military bases in the South China Sea and to reclaim Taiwan. The first phase is almost complete, it shows how massive the construction of China’s military bases in the Spratly Islands is. There is still one challenge, namely how to reclaim Taiwan and how the propaganda carried out by China. Taiwan responded by forming an alliance with America. The second stage is to push the battlefield into Guam in the Pacific Ocean. Guam is America’s second line of defense. And the third stage is to pushing battlefield to the Pacific Ocean and the Hawaii. China is on track in this strategy and is predicted to overtake America to become the world’s major military power if this strategy is successful.

America’s strategy was to encircle China with its military bases scattered all over the world. America has deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, namely USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan to respond to China. If war breaks out, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will become America’s military bases supported by their NATO allies. The Battlefield is predicted to be the South China Sea to the Pacific Ocean so that the two countries are trying to seize influence in the two regions.

Michael O’Hanlon on his paper entitled ‘Forecasting Change in Military Technology, 2020–2040’ predicts there will be a big jump in military technology in the next 20 years [3]. The way to fight will also be much changed compared to the past 20 years. If in the 2000–2020 period our way of fighting was still the same as in the 1980s, namely by dominating firearms, then in the next 20 years it will be dominated by Robotics and Autonomous Systems. In addition, 5G technology will be the key in the war where it is already seen that the two giants are starting to compete in 5G. America is starting to worry about the massive development of 5G by blocking Huawei’s 5G in America.

Between 2 Giants: Energy

Energy security is an important aspect of a country’s defense. Energy is also a hot commodity that is traded and can be used to destroy a country. In warfare, energy security also determines whether or not a battle is won. Looking at the energy consumption of the two giants, petroleum dominates America’s energy use and coal dominates China. America is the largest petroleum producer in the world with a production of 17.87 barrels per day, followed by Saudi Arabia and Russia [4]. No wonder America also plays a role in determining world oil price movements. It is still clear in our memory that the price of oil once hit a low, even minus. This is due to the production war between Russia and OPEC countries. China is an oil importing country and heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies. China depends on coal supplies from other countries including Indonesia to fuel its power plants. If war broke out, the oil supply chain from Saudi Arabia to China would automatically be cut off because Saudi Arabia was an ally of America. America is clearly dominant because it has good energy reserves and is supported by its allies. But different things will happen if Russia is willing to support China. This of course will further add to the complexity of this conflict.

The link between energy security and the stability of world hegemony can be easily explained by quadrants. In the picture below, there are 4 quadrants or conditions that are closely related to energy. The first condition of Long Peace occurs when conditions of safe energy and hegemonic stability are achieved. The second condition of the Energy Competition is when hegemonic stability is achieved but there is a scarcity of resources. The second condition that we are currently facing. The third condition in Resource War occurs when the hegemony condition is unstable and there is a scarcity of resources. This condition is the worst condition that allows military aggression to fight over resources. The last condition is Cold War which occurs when the energy condition is safe but the hegemony condition is unstable. This has happened to Russia and America.

It’s Not Over Yet..

This is the first part of this paper. In the second part I will explain how Indonesia stands between the battle of these two giants both from an economic and energy perspective. I will also explain why this issue is important to us, and my opinion on what Indonesia should do.

So stay tuned.

Reference

[1] G. Allison, Destined For War: Can America and China Escape Thucydide’s Trap. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

[2] “Cina dan Ramalan Bonaparte — Tirto.ID.” [Online]. Available: https://tirto.id/cina-dan-ramalan-bonaparte-bJ6m. [Accessed: 20-Sep-2020].

[3] M. O’Hanlon, “FORECASTING CHANGE IN MILITARY TECHNOLOGY, 2020–2040,” Washington DC, 2020.

[4] “The World’s Top Oil Producers of 2019.” [Online]. Available: https://www.investopedia.com/investing/worlds-top-oil-producers/. [Accessed: 20-Sep-2020].

Written by: Ifana Futramsyah

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