New Delhi: Those betting on an early resolution of US-China trade disputes underestimate the depth of the crisis. Following the United States’ lead of imposing a twenty-five percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods with threats of more to follow, China has applied the same level of tariff on $60 billion of US imports. While the tariff imbalance may seem to favour the United States, US consumers are also paying more for Chinese goods, and it increases production costs too where Chinese intermediates are used.

Nevertheless, the United States compared to China may have more staying power in an adverse economic situation because of the sheer size of the economy which this year is projected to grow at 2.5 percent to top $21.5 trillion in nominal GDP. China with 6.3 percent growth is still a distant second with a likely nominal GDP of $14.24 trillion. China’s woes, however, are not restricted to economic regression because of the trade war with the United States.

Having correctly determined China’s extra vulnerabilities as a totalitarian power on account of a declining economy, the United States has begun to apply pressure on Beijing on non-trade areas such as human rights and the expansion in the South China Sea. China’s harsh crackdown on Uighur separatism in Xinxiang has come in the crosshairs of US coercive diplomacy with Chinese companies making surveillance equipment for the repressed region attracting US blacklisting. Added to the United States’ national-security-related ban on such Chinese tech giants as Huawei, there are the makings of a full-blooded attack on the major drivers of China’s spectacular economic engine. It would be something of a miracle if China can emerge from the battering unscathed with reserves left to fight the United States.

However divisive Donald Trump may be as president of the United States, there is bipartisan consensus on countering the Chinese geopolitical and geo-economic challenges. Indeed, there is a possibility as the presidential election process gets underway of the Democratic Party taking a harder line than the Republican Party on China. Trump has already put likely Democratic Party front-running presidential candidates on the defensive by alleging that they are soft on China. And while Western Europe might not always appear to speak in one voice concerning the Chinese threat, there are underlying apprehensions about it, and the Trump administration has also threatened to cut off sensitive communications to Western states using Chinese telecommunication equipment.

If all this was not serious enough, China under Xi Jinping has shed the conciliatory approach central to Deng’s economic architecture and vision for China. Although Deng ordered the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square revolts which killed thousands in 1989, he sought to make up for suppression of democracy by fostering the growth of capitalism with Chinese characteristics. The last of Deng’s chosen leaders for China, Xi Jinping, has not only abandoned his mentor’s philosophy of stealthy and peaceful rise, but seems further bent on confronting China’s adversaries on battlefields of their choice despite China’s visible structural weaknesses.

For example, the Chinese defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, defended the Tiananmen crackdown on its thirtieth anniversary speaking to a regional security forum in Singapore. He attributed China’s “major changes”, “stability and development” to the crackdown. Chinese belligerence was also directed at Taiwan where an early and forced reunification was hinted and the hard line in Xinxiang and the South China Sea was proclaimed to continue.

Not even a Great Power can fight on so many fronts and continue as before. The United States also urged for a Beijing-Dalai Lama dialogue on Tibetan autonomy but China angrily rejected it. It is not as though Xinxiang, Tibet, Taiwan and the South China Sea are fresh trouble-spots, but these mattered less till the Chinese economy was flourishing. Now that it is tottering, China looks very vulnerable. It is not helpful further when Xi speaks of a “New Long March” or his party unveils a “Second Cultural Revolution” which would pressgang millions of college youth into soul-destroying rural renascence.

If internal turmoil seizes China with these measures, not all the gold in the treasury can save the pre-eminence and monopoly of power of the Chinese communist party. And once the party crumbles, Xi Jinping cannot survive despite all his dictatorial powers. Russia is an unreliable ally in these times because it is desperate to restore good relations with the United States. The situation today is unlikely to follow the trajectory of the Korean War and end in a stalemate. North Korea is not as estranged from the United States as before and is, at any rate, unlikely to do Beijing’s biddings. Russia is definitely not Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union committed to the preservation of communist dictatorships. China could collapse as spectacularly as the former Soviet Union with a wilted economy.