Pence talks tough on China; 'New Cold War' may be looming

October 10, 2018 11:17
The US has signaled that it could go to any lengths to contain China and preserve Washington’s status as the supreme global power. Photo: Bloomberg

US Vice President Mike Pence gave a 40-minute speech on China last week at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., in what is now regarded by many as the most stinging and hostile speech toward Beijing ever delivered by an American leader in many decades.

Some commentators have even said that Pence has fired the first shot in a "New Cold War" against China with his speech.

In his speech, Pence strongly criticized China for throwing its weight around over the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, trying to drive the United States out of the Western Pacific, using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global influence, taking advantage of the US on trade and technology transfer, as well as “meddling in America’s democracy”, etc.

From Beijing's standpoint, these accusations might sound totally groundless, as evident from Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying's rebuttal shortly afterwards.

Nevertheless, from Washington’s perspective, it doesn’t matter whether its accusations against Beijing are well-founded or not, because as far as it is concerned, the bottom line is that China’s rapid rise is posing an enormous and imminent threat to its global hegemony.

Given this, the US would certainly go to any lengths to contain China, the world’s second largest economy, which means the “New Cold War” may really be looming on the horizon as some have suggested.

There is a view that Pence is just the vice president, and therefore what he said doesn’t necessarily imply US tough stance on China, and that he was talking tough in an apparent effort to please the GOP’s support base and boost his party’s prospects in the upcoming US midterm elections.

However, even if there is some currency to this explanation, we still cannot rule out the possibility that US President Donald Trump, under his “America First” policy, is dead set upon consolidating Washington's status as global hegemony on the world scene by suppressing each and every potential rival, including China, and rejecting globalization.

In other words, the US and China could well be heading towards the so-called “Thucydides Trap”, which refers to the scenario that a rising power and an established power are always destined for an all-out confrontation, something that President Xi Jinping would very much like to avoid.

On Monday this week, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo arrived in Beijing in the last leg of his Asia trip.

His remarks that Washington and Beijing have a “fundamental disagreement” with each other and his trading of harsh words with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi may indicate that what the US is truly attempting to achieve isn’t a “win-win” situation between the two powers, but rather, a winner-take-all outcome.

If that is really the case, it will certainly have profound and far-reaching impact upon the current international order.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 9

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal