The United States and China enter a new cold war in the middle of the pandemic


  • The United States and China have entered the beginning of a new cold war in the coronavirus era, experts say.
  • “We are essentially at the start of a cold war,” the director of the Center on US-China Relations of the Asia Society told Insider, warning of the “serious” consequences for the world economy.
  • “For the international system as a whole, a cold war would be devastating,” the director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told Insider, adding that it could “force countries to choose sides.”
  • Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.

The relationship between the United States and China was already teetering on the edge of a cliff before COVID-19, but the pandemic pushed it immediately.

The dynamics between Beijing and Washington have become so controversial in the era of coronaviruses that Chinese experts now say that the two great powers fell in the first days of a new cold war that could prolong the pandemic, exacerbate the economic devastation linked to the virus, and weaken the world’s ability to thwart common threats.

“We are essentially at the start of a cold war,” Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, told Insider. “We are on a downward slope towards something more and more contradictory with China. “

Schell added: “The consequences of the breakdown of US-China relations will be very serious for the world and for the world economy because the ability of the United States and China to work together has been the cornerstone of the whole process. arc of globalization and globalization. With this withdrawal, there will be a lot of disruption. “

The Cold War analogy is “not perfect, but there are elements, including tougher system-type competition, increased military competition and the pressure to dissociate economically, which were not not as obvious a few years ago, “Elizabeth Economy, director of Asian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Insider.

“The reality is that tensions between the United States and China are increasing dramatically at the moment,” Clete Willems, former White House chief negotiator, told CNBC earlier this month.

“I know people are uncomfortable with the terminology, but I think we have to be honest and call it what it is, and this is the start of a new cold war. And if we’re not careful, things could get much, much worse, “added Willems, who left the Trump administration last year.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and American flags fly near the Bund, before the US trade delegation meets its Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China, July 30, 2019. REUTERS / Aly Song

Relations between China and the United States were already on fragile ground before COVID-19.


“Cold war would be devastating” and “force countries to choose sides”

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was a product of the time. World War II devastated large areas of Europe and Asia, leaving the United States and the USSR as the most powerful nations on the planet. But they had fundamentally contradictory ideologies, which were at the heart of the decades-long deadlock between the two superpowers.

Although China is an authoritarian nation and does not share the same worldview as the United States, the two countries are much more closely linked – especially economically. Before the coronavirus pandemic, China held $ 1.09 trillion in US debt, surpassed by Japan only as the United States’ largest foreign creditor.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider that there were elements of US-China competition “reminiscent of the US-Soviet Cold War,” adding that there are also fundamental differences in terms of “the extent of trade and the interaction between peoples”.

“Here’s a big difference between the Cold War with the Soviet Union and today with China: at the end of the Cold War, I think America imported something like $ 200 million worth of goods from the United States. ‘Soviet Union. US imports to China in 2018 were north of $ 500 billion, “said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a recent statement. interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN.

Blair said there was “an economic and commercial interconnection” between the United States and China that was simply not there during the US-Soviet Cold War, describing the dynamics between the two countries as the “defining geopolitical relationship of the 21st century. “

The US-Soviet Cold War created a gigantic ideological, military and political schism in the world, what former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has known as the “Iron Curtain”. It is feared that the current animosity between Washington and Beijing will lead to a similar global division.

“For the international system as a whole, a cold war would be devastating. It would, for example, place all global challenges – from climate change to pandemics to terrorism – in the context of gaining and losing relative power on each side, cooperation is even more difficult, “said Economy. “It would also force countries to choose sides, making very difficult compromises and probably revealing a number of ugly truths about themselves: how they prioritize their political values, their military security and their economic livelihoods. “

America’s relationship with China is vital to fighting future pandemics in addition to the other “most critical national security issues before us,” including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and climate change, Melvyn Leffler , a historian at the University of Virginia who has been researching and writing about the US-Soviet Cold War for decades, said Insider.

Leffler, who warned against allowing Cold War analogies to frame contemporary US-Chinese relations, said the consequences of the deterioration of US-Chinese relations were “ominous” for both. countries and the whole world.

Cold War II

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was characterized by intrinsic distrust between Washington and Moscow and hypernationalist competition for economic, military and technological hegemony.

Similar trends are emerging between the United States and China.

Since his 2016 campaign, Trump portrayed China as a global tyrant who took advantage of the United States (even if he is Chinese President Xi Jinping Was Flattered at many times). As president, Trump has launched a trade war with China, sparking concern over the US economy through partisan lines. An agreement signed in January appeared to put a stop to the trade war, giving Trump a diplomatic victory to brag about as he sought to campaign for re-election in a booming economy.

But then came the coronavirus, which wiped out the economy, endangered the business and squandered any hope of detente in the near future. Although Trump hailed China’s handling of the virus in its infancy, before it was a pandemic, he went on to disparage the Asian country in every turn and blame it for the scale of the pandemic. .

China has been widely accused of worsening the pandemic by suppressing information about the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

However, the president and his advisers went further, suggesting that the virus is leaking from a Wuhan laboratory that researches bat coronaviruses. The World Health Organization, among others, has generally linked the origins of COVID-19 to a market where seafood and wild and farm animals were sold.

Meanwhile, Beijing has vehemently rejected the idea that the virus had leaked from a laboratory, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry suggested in March that COVID-19 was from the United States military.

As governments spread conspiracy theories about the other, Trump has raised the possibility of seeking redress from Beijing for the virus. Last month, the president also announced plans to cut funding for the WHO, which he accused of being too focused on China.

At the same time, the administration has decided to cut funding for American researchers who have collaborated with the Wuhan lab, jeopardizing progress in finding a cure for the virus. Likewise, the Department of Justice has worked to crush Chinese influence in the American academic community, which is reminiscent of former Senator Joe McCarthy Red Scare.

At the same time, the race to create a coronavirus vaccine has become a point of national pride for both countries, drawing comparisons to the space race between the United States and the Soviets.

The hubbub between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus has also spread to the media world. After Trump limited the number of Chinese citizens who can work in the U.S. for five Chinese news organizations, China expelled U.S. journalists in March from three of the most prominent U.S. newspapers.

Antagonism is not limited to the Chinese or American governments and has infiltrated the American public. Americans’ favorable view of China hit a historic low during the pandemic, according to a recent Pew Research poll, giving Trump a backdrop for aggressive Chinese policy.

trump xi

Xi and Trump.

Getty Images / Thomas Peter-Pool

Trump and Xi are to blame

The roots of this potential new Cold War go back many years and predate Trump, but he was also a central player in the outcome of U.S.-China relations.

“There is no doubt that some of the steps that the Trump administration has taken have contributed to it,” said Schell, adding that the president was “singularly unfit to conduct any kind of diplomatic negotiations with anyone.”

But it is also undeniable that Beijing has been “the main engine” in terms of dissociation between Washington and Washington, added Schell, not having solved the “problem of the myriad playing fields between the United States and China before Trump arrives. “

Trump was right to say that the dynamics between the United States and China were unbalanced, said Schell, but “he is completely wrong and chaotic in his way of seeking to regroup and to reformulate a new type of relation with China “.

“Xi Jinping was just as careless and shortsighted,” he added. “You have two leaders who are blinded to the need to develop a new framework and have therefore moved into a spiral that places us in the middle of a new type of cold war. “

Scott Mulhauser, Democratic strategist and former chief of staff at the US Embassy in Beijing, told Insider that “times like this require experienced hands to engage where opportunities exist – and to push back and balance where inequalities need to be corrected and problems need to be resolved. ”

He added: “This random approach to the pandemic, the trade war and relations with China has cost us jobs and even lives – and there is apparently no end in sight, unless one different election results in November ”.

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