Wednesday, December 8, was the last day of the 12th Asian Conference of the Valdai Club, titled “Russia and Asia in a Changing World Order”. On this day one closed-door session was held on the state of regional conflicts and their potential threat.
Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula are considered to be the most explosive zones in the Asian region, but the main topic of the session was the US-China confrontation, which logically continued the discussions of the previous day. The experts agreed with the thesis that neither the United States nor China wants a direct military confrontation, but this does not mean that it is impossible. At the same time, according to the audience, China is unlikely to be the first to aggravate the conflict. Avoiding it is Beijing's top priority.
According to one participant, the situation in US-China relations is reminiscent of the late 1950s, when tensions in relations between the USSR and the USA were growing, but the two countries had not yet had the experience of the Caribbean crisis, which revealed the "red lines" to the both sides. In the same way as then, today the USA and China lack effective tools to facilitate dialogue and build trust. According to one expert, during the Cold War years, a large-scale confrontation was avoided thanks to the establishment of clear spheres of interest and the professionalism of politicians and diplomats. The arms control and open skies treaties created rules of the game that both sides could understand. Nothing of the kind exists in relation to the United States and China, and meanwhile, in addition to traditional threats, new ones are emerging, such as the use of artificial intelligence in the military sphere.
As one of the participants in the session noted, the confrontation between the United States and China looks like a "hybrid cold war". This applies both to economic relations and to the sphere of the formation of narratives. On the first day of the conference, a lot of attention was paid to the "discourse wars" in Asia, in which the West seems to have the advantage at the moment, despite the fact that Russia and China have such strengths as a lack of history of colonial rule.
In the context of regional conflicts, an interesting example is the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Until recently, South Korea was a country with a positive attitude towards the rise of China. However, with the intensification of the Sino-American rivalry, this attitude began to change, and today anti-Chinese sentiments are growing in South Korea. We can say that Pyongyang has become the beneficiary of this situation, since it put an end to the consensus between Washington and Beijing on sanctions against the DPRK.
At the same time, South Korea does not seek to join anti-Chinese blocs, be it the Quad or AUKUS. The reason is that China is its immediate neighbour. A restrained attitude towards such alliances is also characteristic of some other countries in the region, which understand that in the event of a conflict between the two great powers they can become a theatre of military operations.