No one wants a new Cold War

May 19, 2015 11:43
Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are shown in this file photo from their 2013 Sunnylands, California, summit which both sides hyped for its informality. As long as the US and China keep talking, we are far from the point of no return. Photo: Huffington Post

I hate to say it, but nearly all the ingredients for a Cold War between the United States and China are in place.

Like the Cold War rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union that dominated much of the second half of the 20th century, there’s a clash of very different beliefs and ideologies -- for starters, capitalism versus communism.

Then there’s the international power struggle with both sides vying for dominance and, whether anyone owns up to it or not, the exploitation of every expansion opportunity anywhere in the world.

And now that China has beefed up many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple nuclear warheads that can be aimed independently, according to a Department of Defense report, it joins the US and thankfully few others in having the ultimate weapon to back itself up.

The term for the technical advance -- multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) -- became one of the Cold War’s most dreaded fixtures, The New York Times said.

It embodied the horrors of overkill and unthinkable slaughter, the Times said. Each reentry vehicle was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb. Each, by definition, many times more destructive than the crude atomic weapon that leveled Hiroshima.

Before you rush out to build your own fallout shelter, be assured that the US-China relationship is very far from the point of no return.

Yes, China is building military airfields on disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Sure, it’s literally laying the ground for new exclusive Chinese air defense identification zones.

Okay, it has more attack subs than the US.

Yeah, it has 35 military satellites in space with unknown capabilities.

But as long as both sides keep on talking, everything will be fine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted Sunday that relations with the United States remain "stable" despite a standoff over China's territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

"I look forward to continuing to develop this relationship with President Obama and to bring China-US relations to a new height along a track of a new model of major country relationship," Xi said, according to Reuters.

Notwithstanding, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that China would not change course on its position, even with conflicting territorial claims by five other countries.

"The determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock, and it is unshakable," Wang said after US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a two-day visit to Beijing, the Associated Press reported.

It’s this steadfast determination that many China watchers, American diplomat and political scientist Henry Kissinger among them, attribute to China simply exerting a Westphalian approach to "preservation of sovereignty".

(Westphalian sovereignty is the principle of international law that each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country's domestic affairs, and that each state -- no matter how large or small -- is equal in international law.)

Of course, when push comes to shove, after mutual suspicions turn into heightened tensions and heightened tensions turn into powder kegs and powder kegs turn into international incidents, there’s always that thing called mutual assured destruction (MAD) -- ironically a lifesaver when it comes to preventing direct full-scale conflict between the United States and China.

Put simply, MAD keeps the peace, as it did throughout the Cold War, because it guarantees the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.

I hope it doesn’t come to that because the fear of Armageddon isn’t something we can live with everyday.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business