Likes the Chinese military Xi Jinping

China and the USAA conflict that will remain

The Starbucks store on Shanghai's Nanjing Lu shopping street is one of the city's top attractions. The branch of the US coffee house group, equipped with dark wooden elements and elegant designer furniture, extends over two floors and several hundred square meters. It is the largest Starbucks branch in China, says one of the shop assistants proudly, with space for up to 300 people. There is no sign of the US-Chinese tensions here. The mainly young customers are not in the least bothered by the fact that the store belongs to a US corporation.

"Politics? We don't care."

But looking the other way is no longer possible: a conflict between countries of the western international communities and China has long been a reality. UN Secretary General António Guterres warns of a new Cold War in view of the tensions between the two countries. In fact, relations between the two countries are worse than they have been in four decades. And a possible change in power in the White House will not change that.

The USA and the People's Republic of China have had official diplomatic relations since January 1979, i.e. for almost 42 years. At about the same time, the Chinese state and party leadership initiated an economic opening of the country. Foreign companies were also approved for the first time in individual sectors. And that's how US companies could do business in the world's most populous country. And although there is a mighty crisis in the transpacific relations: the Chinese clientele has remained loyal to the big US brands so far. So far, there can be no talk of a full decoupling, i.e. an economic decoupling between the two largest economies in the world.

(imago / Lukas Coch) Trade and other disputes - Australia and China on the warpath
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Mistrust between the USA and China is growing

But the mistrust between the two sides is growing. The barriers to trade are getting bigger.

And so people like to look back on the beginnings of the relationship, including in the US state of Iowa.

Glad Cheng leads through a narrow corridor, over a light-colored carpet into a small room at the end of the hall. It is on the far left in a long, American single-family house.

"He slept in this small room. And back then there were pictures of Star Wars on the wall."

The posters have disappeared. Instead, a heavy chain now hangs in front of the bed with the red-patterned bedspread - like in a museum. Because in 1985 the Chinese President Xi Jinping slept in the bed during his visit to the small town of Muscatine in the US state of Iowa.

"You know, in 1985 China wasn't that wealthy. And then from the window he saw so many cars driving by to pick up the kids from school."

Chinese President Xi Jinping: He used to be a guest in the small American town of Muscatine (imago / Ju Peng)

Not far from the house is Muscatine High School. And Glad explains that for President Xi it must have been inconceivable at the time that parents would pick up their children from school by car.

Photos of Xi's visit hang on a wall in the living room. Xi had come to the American Midwest with a Chinese agricultural delegation. The visit, which is now considered historic, was then only one example of many for the exchange between the two countries. But in the case of Muscatine and Iowa it became more. Muscatine has been twinning with the Chinese metropolis of Zhengding since 2013. Xi was party leader there in the mid-1980s and thus a high-ranking politician.

"There was a big student exchange, students traveled back and forth. There was also a cultural exchange with music, choirs, orchestras and that sort of thing."

Dan Stein is the head of a local community bank. He has a company for stamps and together with Glad Stein runs an import-export agency that takes care of cultural exchange with China, global trade and real estate development.

"Delegations that were often led by the Chinese government are now absent. The US State Department has issued new rules that they must disclose their activities in China. There are far fewer exchanges."

Less exchanges as a result of a change in China policy

It is the result of a change in China policy. Its prominent representative in Washington is US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a keynote address in July this year at the Richard Nixon Memorial Library, he accused the Chinese Communist Party of stealing patents, destroying supply chains, disregarding human rights and endangering international trade on major waterways.

"President Richard Nixon once said he feared he created a Frankenstein by opening the world to the Chinese Communist Party. And that is where we stand. Whatever the reason, China is increasingly authoritarian at home today and in his hostility towards freedom more aggressive everywhere. "

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Dan Stein in Muscatine says the United States and China are going through a difficult period in their relationship. But it is not in the mutual interest to completely separate from each other again. So no decoupling, no decoupling of the two companies - and certainly not in the short term:

"Beyond trade, it's about global influence and how to use it. America thinks it's a great, extraordinary nation that treats people fairly. I'm not sure history will always prove us right. But now that China is gaining power." has, we ask, how will they use power? And as always: If someone like us loses power, he still wants to retain influence. And we are currently experiencing this conflict. "

Washington leaders make sure they are talking about China's government and politics, not the people.

"But it can't just be about being tough. It's unlikely to get there. We also need to involve and empower the Chinese people - dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely different from the Chinese Communist Party. "

Both sides are economically dependent on each other

At the base of Sino-American relations and because both sides are economically dependent on one another, the current crisis does not actually change much. Here's what Shen Dingli from the Center for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University said:

"The US still wants to benefit from close relations between the two countries. That has not changed. China also wants to benefit from close relations. The only problem is that there is an imbalance, because China benefits to a much greater extent From the US point of view, one does not get enough benefit from it. "

South China Sea: a point of conflict between China and the US (afp)

The Shanghai Center for American Studies was founded in 1985, the year in which the current head of state Xi Jinping traveled to Muscatine, Iowa, around 10,000 kilometers from Shanghai. When the institute was founded at Shanghai's Fudan University, it was considered modern and forward-looking at Chinese universities to deal scientifically with the USA.

Today there is not much of this left, on the contrary: There is hardly any academic freedom at China's universities and only very few experts in China who deal with the USA dare to speak their mind openly out of fear state repression. Shanghai professor Shen Dingli is one of the few people in China who is still willing to speak to foreign media about China-US relations.

(picture alliance / Kyodo) Beijing's Imperialism: The Conflict in the South China Sea
The South China Sea is the scene of increasing international tensions: China claims most of the region for itself, which is controversial in the neighboring countries. The conflict is about fishing grounds, oil and gas reserves - and the control of one of the most important shipping routes in the world.

"The dispute between China and the US is now about business, trade and technology. It's about Tiktok and WeChat. It's about Taiwan, the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and a lot more."

For the political scientist Eric Hundman, something else also plays a role. Hundman works as a researcher at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University and as a professor at the private New York University in Shanghai.

"There is no question that the US has given China preferential treatment for years. They wanted to help the People's Republic develop. And it was hoped that not only China's economy would change, but that politics would also change in a certain direction. Under this one From a point of view, it's understandable that the US is frustrated with how some things have developed in China over the past few years. "

The concept of "change through trade" did not work

In fact, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the concept of "change through trade" has failed in relation to China. The communist leadership has modernized the People's Republic economically in the past few decades, but politically and socially, China is much more closed and restrictive today than it was ten or 15 years ago. Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013 at the latest, the state leadership has systematically taken action against anything that even remotely questions the CP's claim to power.

When it comes to China, Dave Watson in the US state of Iowa does not necessarily think of the Communist Party's claim to power, but of its fields. In this respect, the right degree of drought is at stake on his farm. Only then do the pods of the soy plant burst when they are rubbed between the grinding wheels of the harvester and release the beans. Soy is a Chinese plant, but the US is the world's second largest exporter after Brazil, says Dave.

"I'll take the soybeans we harvest that afternoon and bring them to a loading terminal in Muscatine or Davenport, Iowa. They'll be put on a barge. It goes through a series of locks to Baton Rouge or New Orleans. There, at the Southern tip of Louisiana, they are loaded from the barge onto a large container ship. And this container ship then goes either to Europe or through the Panama Canal to Asia, that is to say China, Japan or Korea. "

Soy field in the USA: China as an unfair player (imago images / Design Pics / Scott Sinclier)

China has been an unfair player for a long time, says Dave. And he is repeating a sentence that President Donald Trump coined.

Even in the afternoon Dave is still unsure whether the soy pods are dry enough and burst. He drove to Steven Kaufmann's field. Dave has promised to bring in Stevens' harvest with his red machine, which resembles a combine harvester. The Kaufmann family has been cultivating their land in the region for as long as Dave's family, in other words well over 100 years. Steven is 70, wears dungarees, a wild gray beard and the glasses must have been fogged up for ages.

"We can keep China in check if we keep this president. Then everything would be fine. But I'm worried that we won't succeed. It doesn't look so good."

(picture alliance / Wolfram Steinberg)

If you don't vote for Trump, you have to be an idiot, says Steven Kaufmann. As the representative of the soybean farmers in Iowa, Dave is of course much more deliberate and cautious about the presidential election.

"We are both world powers and one always wants to be bigger and more powerful than the other. That will always be the case. But you shouldn't make it worse than it is. If it remains a friendly competition, then everything is fine. But if it does that turns into opponents, that really worries us. "

Strategically, the confrontation with China is superimposed on all other conflicts

But from a strategic point of view, the confrontation with China is already superimposing the United States on all other conflicts apart from the trade dispute. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke in mid-September of the Indo-Pacific region as the number one operational area of ​​his military. Esper announced that it would spend more money on new ships.

"It will be an armed force of 355 ships, both manned and unmanned. Built over time and within budget."

It is an arms race with China. In terms of the number of ships, the People's Republic now has a larger navy than the United States. It's about forcing the enemy to spend more and more money on new weapon systems. However, some armaments experts have recently seen the US military in the role of the driven and no longer China. The communist leadership in Beijing is accordingly self-confident and power-oriented.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo strongly criticizes China (AFP / JIM WATSON)

The press briefing room in the Chinese Foreign Ministry: elongated tables with workstations for reporters, opposite, a podium against a bright blue background, flanked by two Chinese flags. One of the three spokesmen for the Foreign Ministry answers questions from international journalists here on weekday afternoons. For several months now, there has hardly been a press briefing without an attack on the US government. Spokesman Zhao Lijian repeatedly formulates particularly jagged and drastic words. The former diplomat focused on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular.

"Every time Mike Pompeo opens his mouth, it's very clear who is spreading lies, misinformation and Cold War rhetoric. Every time Pompeo opens his mouth, support for the Communist Party and grow among the Chinese people." love for the Chinese fatherland. "

Pompeo is perceived as the toughest critic in China

The US Secretary of State is perceived in China as one of the toughest critics of the state and party leadership. What is obviously particularly annoying to them is that Pompeo repeatedly emphasizes that the policy of the US government is not directed against the country of China or against the population, but exclusively against the ruling Communist Party. From the point of view of the government, this is a provocation. Because it tries to convey the image internally and externally that the country, the population, the government and the Communist Party are a unified, inseparable entity.

"I would like to give Pompeo some advice. We have more than enough of your arrogance, your prejudices, your lies and your rumors. The Communist Party and the Chinese people are there for each other at all times. Nobody can separate flesh and blood, the party and that Uniting people. No one will break the Communist Party without breaking the Chinese people. "

China's head of state and party Xi Jinping is much gentler when he talks about the conflict with the United States. For example in a video greeting for the UN General Assembly in New York at the end of September.

"The international community should reject the attempt to build new global power blocs that are only there to marginalize other states. We should strive for win-win cooperation and put ideological disputes aside. And we must not fall into the trap of a clash of civilizations to risk."

A new great power conflict

For many international political scientists, this clash of civilizations, ie the much-cited "clash of cultures", is already a reality. Some commentators are now even speaking of a "new Cold War". The political scientist Eric Hundman of the private New York University in Shanghai thinks little of this term.

"We are obviously in a new superpower conflict. China is increasingly becoming a competitor to the US in many areas and it looks like this trend will continue. But: The way of competition is very different from the Cold War between The United States and the Soviet Union. Back then there was far less exchange between the two countries than there is today between China and the United States. There was no economic dependency. There was also much less exchange between the two societies than there is today, not to mention the one Opportunities for today's global communication and travel opportunities. "

Overview on the subject of coronavirus (imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte)

But it is also clear that the last-mentioned argument is no longer worth much in reality.The corona pandemic has virtually brought travel between China and the USA to a standstill. It is still unclear when China's leadership and the government in Washington will loosen the corona-related hard entry rules again. It is also questionable whether the civil society and economic exchange between the USA and China will ever return to the level it was before the health crisis. Because it is structural problems, ideological and political conflicts that increasingly determine the relationship.

A change of power in the White House alone cannot change that if everything remains unchanged on the Chinese side. The US Democrats around Joe Biden are now critical of the Chinese leadership. The conflict between China and the US is here to stay.