SINGAPORE (Oct 1): Something important has changed in US-China relations in recent months. The strategic rivalry between the two now dominates over other issues, making the things that matter to the rest of Asia, such as the tariff war, more difficult to resolve. It may be premature to term the tensions between the two big powers as a new cold war, but the relationship between the two is becoming more of a zero-sum one and less a cooperative one. The net result for Southeast Asia cannot be good, given the likely political and economic fallout for the region — but we should also recognise that there could be some positive implications as well.

What has changed?

Several important policy documents earlier this year presaged a shift towards the US viewing China as a strategic competitor rather than as a broadly benign power. The US is now actually acting on that shift. US President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed penalties on China’s Equipment Development Department, a unit of the Chinese military, for purchasing high-technology Russian weaponry in violation of US sanctions on Russia. This action was followed by the US authorities arresting a young Chinese student for allegedly spying for China.

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