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US v China: is this the start of a new cold war?

US v China: is this the start of a new cold war? thumbnail
 

George Kennan, the US charge d’affaires in Moscow at the end of the second world war and the author of the famous Long Telegram in 1946, captured in his memoir how quickly perceptions in international relations can change.

The man widely seen as the intellectual author of the cold war recalled that if he had sent his telegram on the nature of the Soviet threat six months earlier, his message “would probably have been received in the state department with pursed lips and raised eyebrows. Six months later, it probably would have sounded redundant, a preaching to the converted.”

Now, as the US squares up to China over the coronavirus pandemic, it appears as if many of the world’s democracies are, as rapidly as in 1946, reaching a new perception of the world order. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has declared the Chinese Communist party to be the number one threat to security, greater than international terrorism, and a growing number of countries seem to agree.

Those who argued that a more economically liberal China would produce a more politically liberal China fear they have found themselves on the wrong side of history. From the airspace over Taiwan to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the frozen Himalayas on the border with India and the reefs surrounding the Xisha/Paracel islands in the South China Sea, Chinese assertiveness is prompting a reassessment. The Australian government’s decision on Friday to call out a state-led cyber-attack – without naming China – was only the latest evidence of a new mindset.

Chinese soldiers on patrol in 2019 on Woody Island in the Paracel Archipelago, which is known in China as the Xisha Islands.

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Chinese soldiers on patrol in 2019 on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, which is known in China as the Xisha Islands. Photograph: China Stringer Network/Reuters

The US is demanding that its allies not only admit to previous naivety but join it in an anti-China alliance. China, perhaps less overtly, is lobbying countries to to join its rival power bloc.

Many countries are trying to hedge, but the scope for neutrality or non-alignment is narrowing. India, for instance, long proud of what its former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon calls its strategic autonomy, is reeling at the implications of the brutal Chinese clubbing of its soldiers in the Galwan valley, an act Menon regards as unprecedented in its scope and implications for relations between the two neighbours.

Menon has long argued that India should eschew permanent alliances: “The ideal position for India, of course, is to be closer to both China and the US than they are to each other,” he says. But as the rhetoric and the threats escalate, it is becoming ever harder to navigate between China and the US in this way. It feels instead as if a new cold war is brewing, fought as much through technology and tariffs as with conventional weaponry.

Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against China in Delhi on 19 June.
Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against China in Delhi on 19 June. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Indeed, the great question for the next six months is the extent to which those countries opposed to the world being divided again into two blocs can prevail, and whether the economic connections across the world are now so dense that the price of the decoupling that America is demanding is too high.

A few years ago, many thought these might be questions for later in the decade. A superpower rivalry had been brewing slowly, after all, under Barack Obama. But it took on a new urgency with the advent of the Trump administration. In the words of one of Donald Trump’s discarded advisers, Steve Bannon, “these are two systems that are incompatible. One side is going to win. The other side is going to lose.” Coronavirus, the Great Accelerator, has brought the issue to a head earlier than expected.

According to Kishore Mahbubani, a fellow at the Asia Research Institute, Trump has prepared for this battle chaotically. “The fundamental problem is that the US has decided to launch a geopolitical contest against China, the world’s oldest civilisation, without first working out a comprehensive strategy on how it is going to manage this contest. It is quite shocking. These are not abstract issues for Korea and Japan. America wants them both to decouple from China, but for them that is economic suicide.”

Mahbubani was Singapore’s lead diplomat at the United Nations, and the county’s current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, is equally vehement that Asia does not relish Bannon’s choice. “Asian countries see the US as a resident power that has vital interests in the region,” he said. “At the same time, China is a reality on the doorstep. Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the two. And if either attempts to force such a choice – if Washington tries to contain China’s rise or Beijing seeks to build an exclusive sphere of influence in Asia – they will begin a course of confrontation that will last decades and put the long heralded Asian century in jeopardy.”

Loong also urges the US not to see this as a rerun of 1946. “China is far from a Potemkin village or the tottering command economy that defined the Soviet Union in its final years . Any confrontation between the great powers is unlikely to end, as the cold war did, in one country’s peaceful collapse.”

A similar scramble for neutral ground is under way in Europe. Yes, Europe declared China “a systemic rival” a year ago, and most EU countries are looking to diversify their supply chains, limit foreign subsidies, or review how they regulate sensitive Chinese inward investments. But Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, is reluctant to be dragged into Trump’s all-out war. After video talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi earlier this month he unveiled the Sinatra doctrine – Europe would do it in its own way.

Xi Jinping meets Angela Merkel in Beijing in 2018.

Xi Jinping meets Angela Merkel in Beijing in 2018. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Borrell insisted China was not a military threat and confided Wang had told him China did not like being called a “systemic rival”. Borrell ruminated “Words matter,” before tying himself up in linguistic knots asking “What does ‘rival’ mean? ‘Rival’ on what? Is ‘systemic’ a matter of rivalry between systems? Or is it a systematic rivalry? There are two interpretations”.

For countries such as Germany this is not about a play on words. China bought €96bn (£87bn) of German exports in 2019 – nearly half as much as the EU’s. Volkswagen sold 4.2m cars there in 2017 financial year. If Deutsche Telekom was forced to remove Chinese equipment suppliers from its network – a scenario called Armageddon – it would take 5 years and cost billions. A systematic rivalry is not in Berlin’s interests, or indeed what its people want. In survey after survey they affirm Trump is a greater threat to world peace than Xi.

Similarly, in Latin America some surprising countries are proving to be China-centric. Chile, probably the most free-market economy on the continent, counts China as its main trading partner both in terms of imports and exports.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has extended his signature foreign policy, the Belt and Road initiative, right across Latin America, signing up 14 of the region’s 20 countries. China has surpassed Brazil as Argentina’s biggest trade partner. Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, preaches that “trade relations must be de-ideologised”.

In Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro’s entourage have sent racist tweets about Beijing’s plans for “world domination”, exports to China rose by 13.1% in the first five months of the year compared with the same period in 2019. A third of Ecuador’s debt – $18.4bn (£15bn) – is owed to Chinese policy banks. Mexico, Venezuela and Bolivia also have strong trading links with China.

Once America’s backyard, Latin America is rapidly becoming China’s frontyard. With the closer economic links come political quiescence. On the issue of Taiwan, Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have shifted from Taiwan to China since 2017. In return they have secured infrastructure financing and investment.

China has long had Africa sewn up as its biggest creditor. “For Africa there is no other game in town when it comes to financing,” says the historian Niall Ferguson. “We [the west] are not competing in an effective way,” he recently told the Henry Jackson Society.

African countries have borrowed as much as $150bn – almost 20% of their external debt – from China, data collected by Johns Hopkins University shows.

A Bank of China billboard and a Pepsi advertisement stand outside the arrivals area at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia.
A Bank of China billboard and a Pepsi advertisement stand outside the arrivals area at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In recent years, China’s lending has grown to exceed the combined loans of the IMF, the World Bank and the Paris Club, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Yet around 50% of China’s international lending to developing and emerging countries is not included in official statistics. China says that as part of the G20, it will do its bit to ease Africa’s debt burden, suspending payments for at least eight months. But it has not announced details, and the conditions of many of its loans are murky.

“The terms of these loans are very opaque and will take a lot of time to restructure,” says William Jackson, the chief emerging markets economist at the research firm Capital Economics. “There is little negotiating power among African countries. China is in the stronger position.”

China has used this worldwide network to make its long march through the UN’s institutions, enabled by the US’s own shorter march out of the same forums. An early warning for the west came in 2017 when Britain’s candidate to run the World Health Organization was crushed by the Chinese-backed Ethiopian candidate, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. China itself now heads four of the UN’s 15 specialist agencies. Prior to the election for director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2019, China wrote off $78m in debt owed by the Cameroonian government, whose nominated candidate coincidentally withdrew his bid afterwards. China beat the French candidate, taking 108 of the 191 votes.

After years as a shrinking wallflower, China has also become active in the UN Human Rights Council, sponsoring motions and in July 2019 crushing western criticism of China’s treatment of 1 million Uighur Muslims. That July vote was seen as an acid test of Chinese influence. Twenty-two western nations backed a resolution criticising China, but more than 50 nations signed an opposing letter accusing the west of “politicising human rights” and commending what it called China’s “remarkable achievements” in human rights. Not a single Muslim country backed the west. The so called “Like-minded Group of Developing Countries” all backed China or sat it out. Similarly, a tranche of eastern European countries refused to condemn Beijing.

The episode demonstrated that any assumption that there is an inbuilt majority willing to take on Chinese authoritarianism in the way that the US wants is a fantasy. Mahbubani argues that countries containing 20% of the world population are willing to join an anti-China alliance, but the rest would not. Dr Keyu Jin, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, says there is a global divide: “The attitude of many emerging markets to China is very, very different to rich industrialised nations. They want to learn from and aspire to the China model. They associate China with innovation in technology. Ten years ago during the financial crisis, China was the one to fill in the financial gaps when the US Fed[eral Reserve] had only swap lines with six major advanced economies.”

Hong Kong police detain people in December 2019 after a rally to show support for the Uighur minority in China. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

China has been lucky in its enemy. Just as China has courted its allies, Trump has insulted his. Mira Rapp-Hooper, in her new book Shields of the Republic, documents both how Trump has gloried in the destruction of alliances, and the price the US is paying. She concludes: “Trump does not need legally to sever treaty alliances – by treating them as protection rackets for which the protected parties can never pay enough, he obviates them. By embracing adversaries, he challenges the very notion that his allies share threats.” Not surprisingly some Chinese diplomats would welcome Trump’s re-election, and another swing of the wrecking ball he brings to the western alliance.

Yet at the 11th hour there may be a reversal of fortunes, largely caused by China behaving as foolishly as Trump. For Aaron Friedberg, a counsellor at the National Bureau of Asian Research, China’s behaviour in response to coronavirus could represent a kind of clarifying moment. “It is as if at every stage the unfolding of the crisis has pulled back another curtain, revealing yet more ugly facets of the regime’s character and highlighting the diverse dangers that it can pose to others.”

The threat posed to Hong Kong, and the conflicts on the border with India, are only symptomatic of a series of Chinese steps that have made the life of the non-aligned harder, and have left more traditional Chinese political scientists such as Lanxin Xiang fuming. He argues that China, by indulging in “fantasies of self-glory”, is doing untold damage to itself and relations with the west.

If China is at risk of blowing its chance to lead, then others have calculated that a fleeting chance exists for the middle-power democracies, some with nuclear weapons, to hold greater sway. There is talk of a D10 of democracies – in essence, the G7 plus Japan, India and Korea. It is an idea that might fly if Joe Biden is elected US president. But it would require greater restraint from Washington about how far to push the confrontation with China.

He never got to run an international thinktank, but the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, reflecting on a previous interregnum, was right: “The old world dying, and a new one struggling to be born. Now is the time for monsters.”

theguardian



35 Comments on "US v China: is this the start of a new cold war?"

  1. joe on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 1:53 pm 

    Good old Commie Rag. This fake news outlet is part of the dying world order. They want the US to save us all from scary China do they. Fuckjng cants cheering ripping down statues and blaming the elderly for Brexit forget bame, the guardian should be asking why the elderly paid the price for covid19. They know damn well facism is a very high risk in Europe. Migrants will be seen as a 5th column and security risk in a New Cold war.
    Putin ain’t stupid, he knows this shit is really about smashing Russia against the Chinese anvil.

  2. Famlin on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 3:45 pm 

    If China has 18% of worlds population and consumes 24% of the worlds energy, then its a developed country and should be asked to pay as much money as USA to the UNO, World Bank, IMF and take the same share of emissions cuts at Paris accord.

    If they try to act as a developing country, then they are fooling everyone.

  3. Famlin on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 3:47 pm 

    After coronavirus, everyone would have realized how dangerous china is with its dictator. More the Made in china goods you buy, more coronavirus that you breath.

    Avoid chinese goods, protect your jobs.

  4. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:35 pm 

    Right on joe. ZH is a Sinophobe/Russophobe web site. Purely on the side of the dying US. Not objective at all. ZH is ALL about $$$ and fuck the serfs and the future.

    Just looking at the US “news” every day and watching Amerika become more psychotic, more immoral and more anti-democracy, is very interesting. It’s like the Amerikan designed coronavirus affects the mind, but then, it all started a long time ago and is just now becoming so obvious to everyone. So VERY obvious!

    Xi, Putin, and all the rest of the world just has to sit back and wait for Amerika to totally disintegrate. Only a matter of time, and not long, I think. Between now and the maybe election, all hell will break loose and after? We shall see. Are you prepared?

  5. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:43 pm 

    Famlin, get real! Just try to NOT buy Chinese goods for a year and see if you can. Don’t buy ANY electronics (the parts come from China), clothes, tools, toys, bikes, cars (parts again), trucks, Amerikan flags, the MAGA hats, etc. Read ALL labels.

    I bet you cannot do it. You are obviously not very educated on global commerce are you? The US imports almost everything you need. It no longer makes them in the US.

    BTW: Why should China support Amerikan controlled entities like the WTO, IMF, etc? They prefer to start their own and the US doesn’t like that. Too fucking bad! Adjust to the new world, tax slave! LMAO!

  6. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:47 pm 

    “Right on joe. ZH is a Sinophobe/Russophobe web site. Purely on the side of the dying US. Not objective at all. ZH is ALL about $$$ and fuck the serfs and the future.”

    Mak, you just can’t handle bad news so you label it. You once referenced ZH articles everyday like I do under Davy’s ID.

  7. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:48 pm 

    “US v China: is this the start of a new cold war?”

    It looks like Amerikans are going to even exceed their current insanity by going to ‘war’ with their banker and their supplier of most all necessities. Such stupidity! They best consider the outcome of such a ‘war’ and realize they will lose terribly. So be it!

    Pass the popcorn. The Amerikan suicidal comedy is starting. A sunny Tuesday morning here in the land of eternal summer.

  8. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:48 pm 

    “Famlin, get real! Just try to NOT buy Chinese goods for a year and see if you can. Don’t buy ANY electronics (the parts come from China), clothes, tools, toys, bikes, cars (parts again), trucks, Amerikan flags, the MAGA hats, etc. Read ALL labels.”

    Much of what China sells is the cheap plastic or flimsy metal stuff. Real quality is found in Europe not Asia.

  9. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:51 pm 

    “It looks like Amerikans are going to even exceed their current insanity by going to ‘war’ with their banker and their supplier of most all necessities. Such stupidity!”

    Mak, china is off its rocker lately. They are belligerent with all their neighbors. India is going to kick their ass if they are not carefull.

  10. Duncan Idaho on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:52 pm 

    Mathematicians urge colleagues to boycott police work in wake of killings
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01874-9?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=761bed091d-briefing-dy-20200622&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-761bed091d-42316671

    Everyone is realizing pigs are not going to change.

  11. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 5:54 pm 

    Davy, it is not bad news for me. I do read some of the articles as they give perspective. How do you see the real picture if you ignore other’s views of it? Perspective doesn’t mean just changing channels of the USMSM propaganda. It means considering ALL the views around the world.

    That I point out the ZH phobias only means that I see them and consider the articles with that understanding. Amerikans are so brainwashed, they don’t know that there are other viewpoints and REAL facts. But then, that is why the US is going down and the East is rising. So be it. Fun to watch from safe, foreign shores. ^_^

  12. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 6:19 pm 

    Only in Amerika…

    “102 Shot, 14 Fatally, In Chicago Father’s Day Weekend Massacre”

    “Chicago officials report the city’s highest number of shootings in a single weekend this year. From Friday evening to Monday morning, 102 people were shot, 14 of whom have died, five of those killed were minors.”

    https://www.zerohedge.com/political/102-shot-14-fatally-chicago-fathers-day-weekend-massacre

    Shots heard round the world. Amerika, the newest 3rd world, banana republic, police state.

  13. Duncan Idaho on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 6:23 pm 

    Barr is a Cabbage For Christ.
    You can tell by his actions.
    Slimy and underhanded.

  14. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:11 pm 

    “That I point out the ZH phobias only means that I see them and consider the articles with that understanding. Amerikans are so brainwashed”

    Mak, you are an American so I understand how you feel that way. You are very brainwashed.

  15. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:12 pm 

    “Barr is a Cabbage For Christ. You can tell by his actions. Slimy and underhanded.”

    Barr is a patriot and this is why you crazy liberals are so upset.

  16. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:14 pm 

    Only in Amerika… “102 Shot, 14 Fatally, In Chicago Father’s Day Weekend Massacre”

    https://www.zerohedge.com/political/102-shot-14-fatally-chicago-fathers-day-weekend-massacre

    There you go Mak, keep looking like the hypocrite BaBaBiden. You guys are a pair!

  17. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:16 pm 

    Duncan’s world:
    NYC Sees 400% Jump In Shootings As Undercover Unit Disbanded
    As the NYPD disbands its undercover investigations unit, taking hundreds of crime-spotting undercover officers off the streets (a decision that will almost certainly lead to fewer low level arrests, but also leaves an opening for more serious crime to make a comeback), it appears one of the most closely followed crime metrics in NYC has skyrocketed compared with the same period last year. According to stats released by the department, the number of shootings reported in NYC over the past week hit 55, compared with just 12 during the same period last year. That’s a nearly 5-fold rise.

    https://www.zerohedge.com/political/nyc-sees-400-jump-shootings-week-nypd-disbanded-undercover-unit

  18. Duncan Idaho on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:17 pm 

    Love Me I’m a Liberal:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nFvhhCulaw

  19. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:21 pm 

    Davy, give it up, you are only continually proving your insanity.

  20. JuanP on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:26 pm 

    Barr aka little fat orange is doing his job as an automaton Trump mouthpiece who will soon be unemployed. Depending on the severity of the Republican wipe-out in November, he may not even find a home at one of the Koch Brothers think tanks.

  21. REAL Green Hypocrite on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:28 pm 

    So true, mak, so true. The DavySkum has become sooo transparent.

  22. MUZZ-19 on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 7:53 pm 

    i’m never here, never heard of this web site.
    there are many muzzies and muzzie lovers here.

  23. JuanP Poodle on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 8:39 pm 

    JuanP

    Question. You have made abundantly clear your hatred of the USA so why do you remain? Why not return to that small South American country where government opponents are thrown out of helicopters over the Atlantic ocean?

  24. The Board on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 9:07 pm 

    davy dumbass

    Question. You have made abundantly clear your hatred of logic, reason common sense, so why do you remain? Why not return to that small North American site called zero-hedge where government opponents are thrown out of the comments section?

  25. Davy on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 11:41 pm 

    I hate you so bad juanPeePeePee.

  26. Davy on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 11:42 pm 

    Oops, sorry y’all. We fergot.

    fuck wak…

  27. REAL Green on Mon, 22nd Jun 2020 11:45 pm 

    Yeap Davy. juanPeePeePee is the REAL biggest fuck wak of em all…

    lunatic

  28. Abraham van Helsing on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 5:02 am 

    England fighting back:

    https://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/manchester-flugzeug-fliegt-mit-rassistischer-parole-ueber-stadion-a-12b4697c-e0bb-4a3a-96cc-e8324c3ba208

    “White lives matter” banner flying over stadium.

    US empire media outlet der Spiegel foaming at the mouth. Message:

    “White lives matter” is racist.
    “Black lives matter” is not racist.

    Got it, white racist?
    Now kneel.

  29. Abraham van Helsing on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 5:22 am 

    All media in the West operate according to the same code, no doubt enshrined in principle documents, youthe reader will never get to read:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8448635/Burnley-FC-apologise-White-Lives-Matter-banner-flown-match-against-Manchester-City.html

    “Outrage” over “white lives matter”.

    Every now and then there are media insider defectors who blow the whistle:

    https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2019/10/22/udo-ulfkottes-book-exposing-cia-control-of-western-journalism-now-available-in-english/

    “Udo Ulfkotte’s Book Exposing CIA Control of Western Journalism Now Available in English“

  30. ZOMFG you guyes MUZZ-19 is codename for psyop Operation CONVICT-19 you guyes on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 6:37 am 

    Nine fugitive ISIS jihadists are blown up in airstrikes by US-led coalition in Iraq

  31. ZOMFG you guyes MUZZ-19 is codename for psyop Operation CONVICT-19 you guyes on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 6:40 am 

    Nine fugitive ISIS muzz are blown up in airstrikes by US-led coalition in Iraq

  32. ZOMFG you guyes MUZZ-19 is codename for psyop Operation CONVICT-19 you guyes i know some wrong when a pretty little white girl ran to a black man arms dead giveaway deeeeeeeeed giveaway on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 6:46 am 

    UK: Brother of Libyan migrant “muzz” murderer has pictures promoting jihad, calls Britons “dogs” and “children of haram”

    it would seem all muzz lovers are in the “dogs” category. Hmmm yes, pretty sure is.

  33. joe on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 7:46 am 

    B+WLM.

  34. ZOMFG you guyes MUZZ-19 is codename for psyop Operation CONVICT-19 you guyes i know some wrong when a pretty little white girl ran to a black man arms dead giveaway deeeeeeeeed giveaway on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 7:57 am 

    MLM

  35. Abraham van Helsing on Tue, 23rd Jun 2020 7:58 am 

    Looks like that Ann Coulter has finally arrived in the realm of “conspiracy theories”. Welcome to the club, Ann!

    https://mobile.twitter.com/anncoulter/status/1275103388603224065

    Libtards do get about 5 seconds “freedom of speech” in Russia:

    https://twitter.com/rooshv/status/1275233550674075648?s=20

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