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China and the U.S. Are Facing Off in the Third World

As rifts among the Western democracies heal, rivalry is turning toward Central Asia, Africa and Central America.

Toasting to victory at the Belt and Road Forum.

Toasting to victory at the Belt and Road Forum.

Photographer: Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images 

During the Cold War, the Third World was a superpower battleground, as the U.S. and Soviet Union jockeyed for position across the globe. Today, the developing regions are once again an arena for rivalry, this time between the U.S. and China.

As the President Donald Trump era ends, Washington seems, somewhat fortuitously, to have mostly avoided the danger that China might divide it from other advanced democracies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Yet the struggle for the Third World is only beginning, and Beijing possesses sizable advantages as well as vast ambitions.