America's "diplomatic" boycott of the Beijing Olympics is the latest in the string of tension developing over the years between China and the US. It was not totally unexpected as there were foreshadowing statements for a while. But when it happened it hit the world like a tonne of bricks. The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980 in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
The situation with China is not comparable with what happened in 1980 and yet it appeared as a sign of an increasingly frosty relationship.
Earlier, tension had flared up when about 150 Chinese aircrafts intruded into Taiwan's air defence zone.
The United States has developed a similar kind of strained relationship with Russia as well. They had expelled their diplomats in a tit-for-tat manner. Washington is worried about Russian troop build-up along the Ukraine border. There are exchanges of harsh words between the US and Russia.
As the year rolls over to 2022, such behaviour and actions are expected to increase.
The US had been in seclusion for a long time before the Second World War when it was badly trounced at Pearl Harbour. Until then it was basically a huge island, an inward looking nation of migrants aspiring to discover itself. Because of its geography it was secured from any outside invasion or onslaught of imperialistic adventures.
The Second World War has woken up that giant which suddenly found that it has the money and muscle power to bring the world to its terms in the waning days of Britain's imperialistic expansion. And there was wealth to be made and ideologies to be protected by that manner of world view.
In that light we have seen the US engagement in Indochina.
The end to the Cold War seemed to have heralded the end to such violent global affairs.
But then the red sun was rising in the east. China grew super fast with the opening up of its economy by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The West found China as a cheap sourcing place for everything from apparels to smartphones, causing its economy to grow in leaps and bounds to make it the world's second largest economy.
Now China has its own voice which it wants others to listen to. It could stare eye to eye with the West and get its way on its own terms. With a nearly four trillion dollar reserve, China now had leverage in spreading its influence abroad and its Belt and Road Initiative grew with a flurry of infrastructure activities across Asia and Africa.
The US and the West felt their axis of influence was under pressure.
Slowly the tension built up mostly on the economic front. Banning of Huawei in telecom by the US was a big step. Slapping anti-dumping duty on Chinese products was another that was retaliated against by China as well. Canada joined in the fray with the arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer on a US fraud charge that tore through the heart of US-China relationship.
The US, irate with its European allies' cozying up with China on trade and investment finally had a breakthrough when Europe launched its own counterpart of the Belt and Road Initiative named the Global Gateway.
The US managed to succeed in building the QUAD, an alliance involving Japan, India, Australia and the US followed by a military exercise on an unprecedented scale.
With such a scenario of build up of tension, the next year is likely to see more tensions between a rising dragon and an aging eagle. But the old bear is likely not to be in hibernation as well, it will want to regain its old power. All of them would want to shape the world order after this pandemic in their fashion with adversarial rivalry and existential competition where each side will try to prove the superiority not only of firepower but also of ideology.
President Joe Biden's Democracy Dialogue with a few handpicked countries that drew severe criticism from China and Russia is just one of the manifestations. So is the boycott of the Olympics.
In the coming year, the world will wait with bated breath for the unfolding of the next act.
Inam Ahmed is the Editor of The Business Standard.