By Zhang Xiaotian, Xu Zhidong, Zhang Weiping
张啸天 徐志栋 张未平
The year 2020 is coming to an end amid the rampant COVID-19 pandemic and ceaseless conflicts. As we look back on the past year, we see the novel coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, major-country competition continuously escalating, the world situation being adjusted at a faster pace, regional hotspots popping up one after another, and all-terrain security risks on the rise. 2020 is a year when the old international order is falling apart more quickly, and the new landscape is being shaped with twists and turns. It marks the beginning of deep-going turbulences and changes in international military conflicts and security situation.
Adjustments of major countries' strategic layouts
Historical laws tell us that the international system never evolves in a linear trajectory, nor does the rise and fall of powers, it is always a process of quantitative and qualitative accumulation, emergence, escalation, and restructuring.
The widespread COVID-19 in 2020 is nothing short of a war, which, though unable to comprehensively overthrow the world situation, is an important game-changer. Throwing its weight around throughout the year, the epidemic has again demonstrated the non-linear evolution of human society and world landscape and accelerated the development.
With the epidemic still running amuck, the strength distribution of major nations, world security and development situation, and the way of international struggles are undergoing profound changes. In a strategic environment with mounting uncertainties, major countries like the US and Russia have actively made deployments to gain an edge.
Taking China and Russia as strategic adversaries, the Trump administration, guided by its "America first" policy and following such strategic plans as the US National Defense Strategy and Indo-Pacific Strategy, has accelerated its movements to promote a "whole-of-government strategy on China".
First, the US has intensified its ties with Taiwan region and pressed China harder at its doorstep. In March, Trump signed off on the so-called "TAIPEI ACT", which claimed that "the US government should consider increasing or decreasing its economic, security, and diplomatic engagement with nations according to their relations with Taiwan". In July, the US Senate in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 suggested "inviting Taiwan to participate in the RIMPAC military exercise and berthing American medical ships on the island". Regardless of warnings from Beijing, Washington passed bills on arms sales to Taiwan six times in 2020 that amounted to a total worth of more than $5.8 billion.
Second, the US has stepped up military operations in the South China Sea, China's maritime gateway to the south. In the first half of this year, American military aircraft operated more than 2,000 times in the region; in July, its dual-carrier formation held training and exercises there twice. These operations showed signs of shifting from close-in reconnaissance to provocation, pressuring, and combat exercises.
Third, the US has intensified cooperation with its allies and partners to forge an "anti-China alliance". In November, the US, Japan, Australia, and India held a joint military exercise that stressed more on joint operation than security cooperation. The US and its allies regularly monitored China's military activities in far oceans and enhanced their military presence around China and in the entire Indo-Pacific region. On November 17, the US secretary of the navy called for the reactivation of the 1st Fleet closer to the border between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In the meantime, the US has acted faster to reduce and withdraw troops from other regions worldwide, and the troops, claimed the US Department of Defense, "will be redirected to engage in major-power strategic competition and maintain a strategic advantage".