The Cold War mindset

May 30, 2019 18:18
Sino-US relations have changed so much because both China and the US have changed, and so has the entire world, an observer says. Photo: AFP

The Sino-US trade row has sparked debates as to whether the world is now heading into a new Cold War.

We may need more time and observation to make a definite conclusion on the matter, but I would say there is at least one thing that has become crystal clear: a Cold War mindset definitely exists in the United States.

The “Cold War” refers to the period of time between 1940s and early 1990s, when the world was split between the Eastern Bloc led by the former Soviet Union and the western allies under the leadership of the US.

Shortly before the Truman Doctrine, an official US foreign policy initiative aimed primarily to counter Soviet expansion, was announced on March 12, 1947, George Kennan, a prominent US diplomat stationed in Moscow, had written his “Long Telegram” to Washington, in which he strongly urged the White House to take a tough stance on Soviet aggression.

The document laid down the theoretical foundation for Washington’s “containment” policy against Soviet expansion.

In March this year, a bunch of far-right American politicians, former intelligence agents and some Chinese dissidents who had fled to the US jointly established the “Committee on the Present Danger” (COPD), and vowed to influence Washington’s policy towards Beijing.

Several civilian organizations had in the past, as a matter of fact, adopted this same name, with the earliest one emerging back in the 1950s.

The latest one, however, is about going after China.

Recently, the committee invited Newt Gingrich, a hawkish Republican and former House speaker, to deliver a speech at an event which it organized.

In his speech, Gingrich warned that "If you draw the comparison with the Cold War, we are right now in the moment just before [US diplomat George] Kennan wrote the Long Telegram."

"We haven’t had a wake-up call, we don’t understand what the problem is, we don’t understand what the scale of the response is going to have to be. And we are losing,” Gingrich said.

As such, Gingrich called upon his countrymen to learn from Kennan and start lobbying the US government to change its strategy towards China.

To a certain extent, Gingrich may be right about the current state of Sino-US ties.

It is because as former State Secretary Henry Kissinger publicly pointed out during a personal visit to Beijing last November: “China-US relations will never return to what they were. [Things] must be reoriented.”

I can’t agree more with Kissinger’s analysis. And I believe the underlying reason why Sino-US relations have changed so much is because both China and the US have changed, and so has the entire world.

China has undergone epic political and economic transformation ever since the country embarked on nationwide economic reform and opening up, and in particular, since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Meanwhile, the US has also undergone profound changes, particularly since Donald Trump took office as president in January 2017. Under Trump's leadership, the US has, in many respects, become very different from what it had been in the past. 

In the meantime, the world, too, has changed fundamentally. Today what we are having is a multipolar world, as opposed to the unipolar world in the previous era, when the US was the only superpower around the globe.

During the Cold War period, what we had was a bipolar world order, under which global affairs were dominated by Eastern and Western Blocs.

Now, it is pretty much Trump himself, and not Beijing or the path it has chosen, that has torn down the so-called “Washington consensus” as well as the international liberal and democratic system built by the previous US administrations, thanks to his pitching of “America First” and his contempt for the traditional allies.

As far as the Belt and Road Initiative promoted by China is concerned, it is an international program that stresses cooperation on an equal footing among participating nations, rather than an agenda with a view to building any political bloc.

Amid this situation, I would say that I don't see any sign of revival of a bipolar world order at this stage, nor do I buy into the notion that China and the US are now in a new Cold War.

Rather, it appears Washington is just pursuing global hegemony, albeit in an aggressive way, hence its increasingly frequent and blatant interference in the affairs of the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and of course, Asia.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for Home Affairs