In recent years, an epic showdown has unfolded on the global stage, pitting the heavyweight contenders—China and the United States—against each other in a rivalry for superpower supremacy. While the clash may lack the flashy costumes and catchy theme music, it’s no less dramatic. With economic prowess, geopolitical ambitions, and technological wizardry at stake, this battle of the titans has serious implications for the future of global power dynamics.
China’s ambitions for regional and global influence have become increasingly evident in recent years. On the economic front, China has undertaken initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): the development of transportation networks, ports, and other infrastructure projects. By financing and constructing infrastructure in various countries, China has expanded its global influence and strengthened economic ties with partner nations. China and Russia are also stepping up to challenge the US dollar’s dominance with plans to create a new international reserve currency based on a basket of currencies of BRICS members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). All in all, China has experienced rapid economic growth over the past few decades, consistently outpacing the United States in terms of GDP growth. In 2020, China became the only major economy to achieve positive GDP growth, even during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This growth has contributed to China’s overall economic strength and influence.
Additionally, China has taken a more assertive stance in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan, causing concerns among neighbouring countries and challenging the U.S.’s traditional dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. China has mainly achieved this by constructing and militarising artificial islands in the South China Sea, as well as exponentially increasing the number of aerial and naval incursions into Taiwan and the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Such showcases of dominance and power have necessitated the other claimants of these lands to scramble their naval fleets or air forces in order to kee p the peace. Things are really looking up for China right now, showing up the USA on many fronts in recent years, while everyone else sweats nervously due to the intensifying rivalry between the superpowers.
On the other hand, the United States has long been considered the global hegemon, with a vast network of alliances and military bases worldwide. However, its role as a dominant power has faced challenges in recent years. The U.S. has been grappling with issues such as rising economic inequality, political polarisation, and a shifting international order. These internal challenges have, to some extent, affected its ability to project power and maintain its hegemonic status.
These challenges in governance are associated with the difficulty of gaining a consensus in a bipartisan system, where cooperation is needed between parties whose policies usually oppose each other. However, when Trump’s administration in 2017 signalled that it would adopt a tougher approach against China through economic aggression, it gained tremendous bipartisan support. That is why Biden, who once praised Xi in 2012 for showing a new side to Chinese leadership, shifted to calling him an undemocratic “thug” during the 2020 US elections. While the confrontational approach towards China may have been brewing for a while, its manifestation signifies a significant and dramatic departure from the past; gone are the days where the USA remained the responsible stakeholder and now Americans want someone to speak up and do something about China’s brazenness. Perhaps this trend will follow through for the 2024 Presidential elections, will the next nominee use China as a fall guy for the USA’s declining dominance, as a source of solidarity for votes?
The United States has a wide-ranging list of grievances against China, encompassing issues such as cyber espionage, tensions in the South China Sea, and human rights violations. For one, the recent TikTok saga involving Singaporean CEO Shou Chew shed light on how Americans now perceive China, with great scepticism and xenophobia. Such sentiments are uniform across most forms of Chinese technology, with vehement American opposition over allegations of spying. Just think back on the Huawei debacle, where the US ban has had far-reaching effects on Huawei’s global operations and its ability to access critical technologies. The ban has not been limited to the United States. Some other countries, including Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, have also imposed restrictions on Huawei’s involvement in their respective 5G networks due to similar security concerns. On the military front, China has been actively building up its military infrastructure, and as aforementioned, putting them to good use. They have done so despite their promises to Obama that they would militarise reefs in the South China Sea. Meanwhile in Xinjiang, human rights violations in alleged concentration camps for over 1 million Uyghurs have further strained the relationship between the two superpowers.A Level GP Paper 1, students may discuss different ways of rising to power in politics essays. To accentuate the rise of power through economic prowess and soft power, students can use examples such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to argue for China’s expanding economic influence and evaluate its impact on recipient countries. Perhaps for balance, it is good to mention that though interconnectivity and interdependence can spur economic growth, factors such as debt trap diplomacy can be used to evaluate its overall effectiveness and ethics. Additionally, examples of China’s assertive stance in territorial disputes and military build-up to support arguments on the changing balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a rise in power through military might and intimidation. Students can also discuss the potential consequences of the rivalry, including geopolitical realignments, the fragmentation of alliances, and the impact on technological innovation and global cooperation as an impact for these changing power dynamics.
As the rivalry between the United States and China heats up, the rest of the world is left pondering the consequences of a new bipolar world order. Countries may find themselves in a classic game of “Choose Your Side,” sparking new alliances and potentially turning geopolitical arrangements into a wild roller coaster ride. Hold onto your hats because tensions could ignite conflicts and arms races. Protectionism together with industrial policies have already escalated and buzzwords like friend-shoring, reshoring and de-risking pepper official speeches of the western world leaders. Tech enthusiasts should buckle up as well, as restrictions and regulations might turn the global tech landscape into a puzzling maze that hampers innovation. Finally, let’s not forget that multilateral cooperation might take a hit, transforming global challenges like tackling climate change into a chaotic game of dodgeball. Brace yourselves, as the world spins into a realm of rivalry, fragmentation, and shocks galore!
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