China has a very ancient civilization, which stretches back to 400 years. At that time China was known as the ‘middle kingdom’ and was the centre of the world. But history has a cycle and that cycle sent China hurtling down as the European powers led by England and France came to the fore. The age of colonialism was ushered in and the omnipotent power in the world was the British Empire.
The Rise of the USA
The age of empires and colonialism continued till the end of the Second World War in 1945. Hitler who unleashed the Second World War, though defeated sounded the death knell of the British and French empires and by default the demise of colonialism. The end of the war saw the emergence of the USA as a super power. It took over the mantle of the British Empire.
For some time it was rivaled by the Soviet Union, but its inherent contradictions led to its collapse and the USA emerged as the sole Global power.
Emergence of China
The end of the war also saw an event of far reaching importance. This was the emergence of communist China. A bitter civil war took center stage in China between the Nationalists (backed by the USA) and the Communists led by Mao Tse Tung. The communists over ran China and marked the beginning of the dent in the image of the USA as a world power.
The USA however took the defeat in its stride and continued to consolidate its power in other areas.
Tests for the USA
The USA now began to act the part of a super power. But unlike the British Empire which lasted 200 years the USA by a combination of mistakes reached the end of the tether in just about 6 decades of the end of the Second World War. This was mainly due to a string of wars that the USA fought and in each of them it was the loser.
a) The Korean War (1950-53) was the first war after the Chinese revolution which tested the mettle of the USA. But in a period of 3 years, the USA was exasperated as it could make no headway. General MacArthur recommended use of an Atomic Bomb and was sacked. But the USA had to settle for a cease fire along the 38th parallel. By default the Chinese who had intervened on the side of North Korea claimed victory.
b) The Vietnam War (1963-72). This war was one of the colossal defeats of US arms. Much has been written on this war, but the stark fact is that almost 10 years of fighting and thousands of US deaths, the USA had to retreat. Its image as a super power was again greatly dented.
c) Afghan war. This war is really fought in two phases. In the first phase the USA armed the extreme Muslim right wing fighters against the Soviet Union. Billions of dollars of US arms reached the Islamic fighters and instead of being grateful these men declared a jihad on the USA. This war is on for almost 10 years and again the USA is badly placed. Victory is not in sight. One of the reasons is the lack of focus which shifted to Iraq in a pyrrhic war and secondly failing to realize that Pakistan is playing a double game.
d) Iraq and Libya Interludes. The USA under Bush opened hostilities in Iraq to settle personal scores. They war ended up by removing man who was a bulwark against extremist Islamic philosophy. 9 years and thousands of deaths later the USA has gone home and the situation is volatile as ever. Ditto in Libya, where Gadaffi was again an opponent of al Qaeda. How many know that he was the first to issue an international warrant of arrest against Osama bi Laden in 1998(years before 9/11). By these wars the USA lost focus in its battle against Islamic militancy which has declared the USA as the ‘great Satan’
The entire scenario that is unfolding shows that the USA has gravely miscalculated the power equations. One of these is supporting Pakistan for 55 years. Perhaps if the USA had moved against Pakistan in place of Iraq, there is a good chance that the war in Afghanistan would have been won.
The US economy is the largest in the world with a budget running into trillions of dollars. But how many know that one-third of this economy is mortgaged to China. The US –China trade deficit is in China’s favor and running into billions of dollars
Militarily also China is forging ahead. They are modernizing their army and air force. They have a massive space program and are also constructing aircraft carriers. How strong is the Chinese army? The fact is the Chinese can commit 100 divisions to battle and that is something difficult to match.
The USA on the other hand has greatly miscalculated. It has relied on obscurantist regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran (Shah) and dictators as well as nations like Pakistan. The result is it has shot itself in the foot.
History is a cycle and the wheel keeps turning. Perhaps the time has come when it may tilt towards China. In the coming years, China’s dream of once again becoming the middle kingdom may come true. The USA will only blame itself if this happens.