Isabelle Hupez | April 19, 2019
Responding To: Debating the Prospects of a New Cold War
Avoid Ideological Conflict
On March 5, 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his most famous post-World War Ⅱ address “The Sinews of Peace”, also commonly referred to as “Iron Curtain Speech” in United States. It was considered to be the beginning of the Cold War. Several months ago, just when we were having our first meeting in Washington D.C., the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence formulated what many observers described as another edition of the “Iron Curtain Speech.” He painted China as the foremost threat to the United States.
Indeed, there exists a number of similarities between current Sino-U.S. bilateral relations and the Cold War. As far as I am concerned, the most important similarity is that in both cases, there are geopolitical drivers of the conflict. The geopolitical competition between the United States and the Soviet Union played itself out in Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, and the third world. While Beijing and Washington mainly have their conflict of interest in East Asia rather than the whole globe, regional security challenges like Korea, the East and South China Sea disputes, and Taiwan are also key to what is happening between the United States and China. Probably half a generation from now, China will become the dominant power within the East Asia region on all issues that are really important. That has a lot to do with the geographic locations of China and the United States, with the cultural background of the various countries in the region, and with China’s population size and economic growth. Thus, if the United States is capable of and willing to work with China on resolving some of the regional security issues, it is much more likely for both countries to avoid open conflicts. For example, if it turns out there is some long-term agreement on Korean denuclearization, that would do enormous good to the U.S.-China relationship in the broader sense.
However, not all conflicts are cold wars. A cold war is a very peculiar kind of international framework that is based on ideological resentments and, very often, by proxy. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to expand communism to other regions and the United States fought to stop it with its policy of containment, supporting the values of capitalism. To struggle for hearts and mind, each side was seeking to promote its own ideology while trying to limit the other’s. For example, the United States Information Agency was set up in 1953 to “tell America’s story to the world” and became an essential element of American foreign policy to undermine the Kremlin during the Cold War. Similarly, powerful propaganda against the United States was produced from Stalin to Khrushchev to sell communism. Lies and denigration were also included in the propaganda. As a result, citizens of both sides regarded the other nation and the other ideology as their enemy and the bilateral relations deteriorated further. This was the mechanism that developed in Washington and Moscow for managing the Cold War. In other words, ideological war is an indispensable part, and to some extent, a foundational part of a real cold war. Fortunately, we have not seen it in today’s conflict.
According to the survey of Pew Research Center on Views of China in 2018, 44% of the Americans have a favorable opinion of China and younger citizens have significantly more positive views of China than their older compatriots. What’s more, there is a variety of people-to-people exchanges between China and United States on different levels. In addition, different from a life-or-death rivalry between United States and Soviet Union, China and United States have been capable of working together. If we take the last generation as a starting point, relations between the United States and China have been pretty benign. Up until now, the Chinese economy has developed very much as an integral part of the global economy. And United States also benefited a lot from its stable relations with China. According to a report of Oxford Economics in 2017, China trade relations with the United States has contributed to creating more than 2.6 million American jobs.
In fact, distinct from the Cold War, the trade dimension is the most unique feature of the current confrontations. There are now serious disagreements between the United States and China under the current administration on how global trade is going to work. While the trade dispute may come out of some more basic competition to see who will be the most influential power of this generation, it never happened between the United States and the Soviet Union because they were economically isolated from each other and there was almost no trade between them.
To conclude, while there are geopolitical concerns both in the current Sino-U.S. relations and the Cold War, I don’t think the “Cold War” rubric is suited for what we’re seeing today in the bilateral relations between China and the United States which is characterized by more interdependent trade relations and less ideological rivalry. Since there is structural imbalance between China as a rising power and the United States as a dominant power, there is no easy way to solve the trade dispute between the two nations. Under these circumstances, it is better for China and the United States to limit their core tension to trade and avoid ideological conflict, which will lead to competitions on all respects, or, the real cold war.
Ivan Solomon | April 19, 2019
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