Ivan Solomon | April 19, 2019
Responding To: Debating the Prospects of a New Cold War
From Cooperation to Competition
The fundamental basis for the U.S.-China relationship has changed. The relations are undergoing a paradigm shift from an economic “win-win” to a vision of “strategic competition.” When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the relationship was based on the premise that helping China develop by bringing it into the global economic and financial architecture would be good for everyone. However, China has disproportionately won from globalization and hopes that trade would mollify China’s authoritarian regime soon dashed. Since 2017, under President Trump, the U.S. agenda of imposing $250 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese products to reduce the trade deficient has led to trade war escalation. Considering this context, the logical extension is that the United States and China are in for a long period of competition, or even conflict, across all fields. From Artificial Intelligence and 5G technologies to global health and aviation, China has emerged as a leader ready to push research and development to new heights in the twenty-first century with its recent launch of space program.
Space is one of the most ambitious items on each country’s political agendas. There is a strikingly obvious similarity to the Cold-war era Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. This reinvigorated American interest to get back to the moon as fast as possible comes just as China landed its first spacecraft on the moon on January 3, 2019. The Trump administration has made a return to the moon a top priority with the recent policy directive launching the Space Force as a sixth military branch housed within the Department of the Air Force. Additionally, NASA announced its plan to develop a spacecraft capable of bringing humans to the lunar surface by 2028, which would be a key step in building a permanent presence on the moon. The cold war-style similarities extend beyond space into wider the technology field. The United States has more recently tried its core tactic of cold war-style “containment” by pushing its security alliance (NATO plus Japan, Australia and others) to stop buying China’s high-tech products or selling it advanced technologies.
The international community needs to pay attention to this “strategic competition” due to a key difference in the international security framework between today and during the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. had 21,392 nuclear missiles while the Soviet Union had 39,179 nuclear missiles. For 31 years, the United States and Russia have had an arms-control treaty. President Trump abandoned this 31-year-old treaty (Russia too), which may be the first signs of a new arms race with Moscow. If two countries with weapons of massive destruction was not enough, the world has just added a third. China was never part of the negotiations and never a signatory to the treaty. This means China was free to build up its own nuclear and conventional missiles of all ranges. Therefore, should a conflict arise between the United States and China, the United States would be at a significant disadvantage to flex its arms and apply its Cold War strategy of deterrence.
Since 2017, trade war escalation has had the potential to be very disruptive to global markets. This highlights the interdependent economic links, which represent a second key difference between the Cold War and the current state of U.S.-China relations. China’s aspiration for hegemony does not stop at economic gains from globalization. Through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China seeks to reinforce its image as a country capable of catalyzing investments for the good of the world. This junction of infrastructure investments goes hand-in-hand with China’s newest approach to incorporate soft power.
While the “Made in China” label has become the most common on products, China never became as attractive in terms of its values. A decade ago the Communist party declared a new goal: to build soft power. In an effort to enhance its image, China has embarked on the largest state-sponsored image-building campaign the world has ever seen. David Shambaugh of George Washington University estimates China spends $10 billion each year while America spent less than $670 million on its “public diplomacy” in 2014.
In conclusion, the current state of bilateral relations is different given that the American and Chinese economies are fundamentally linked to each other and vital to the global economy. While there are similar elements of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union such as the space race, China will not collapse like the Soviet Union did. China is continuously innovating, which mean its technology and industrial bases are far too strong. Furthermore, unlike the USSR, China has established deep economic with its rival, making the United States success considerably more dependent on some level of interaction with China than it was with the USSR.
Xiaogu Xu | April 19, 2019
A New Cold War is Approaching? Similarities and Differences between U.S.-China Relations and U.S.-Soviet Relations
Zhaoqing Li | April 19, 2019
Aaron Baum | April 18, 2019
Junming Cui | April 18, 2019
Lakshmi Iyengar | April 18, 2019
Yihong Shi | April 18, 2019
Andrea Su | April 17, 2019
Chang Fan | April 17, 2019
Danny Li | April 17, 2019
Jozanne Murphy | April 17, 2019