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U.S. pushing relations to the brink of a new Cold War: China

Why in news?

The United States is pushing relations with China to “the brink of a new Cold War,” China’s Foreign Minister said , rejecting Washington’s “lies” over the coronavirus while saying Beijing was open to an international effort to find its source.

Details:

Long-standing friction between the two powers over trade, human rights and a range of other issues have been pushed to new heights since the virus outbreak.

Most scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans after emerging in China, possibly from a market in the central city of Wuhan where exotic animals were sold for meat.

Governments including the U.S. and Australia have called in recent weeks for an investigation into the exact origins of the virus.

China has proposed instead that the “global response” to COVID-19 should only be assessed when the pandemic is over. 

The introduction at China’s legislature of a proposal to impose a security law in Hong Kong to suppress the semi-autonomous city’s pro-democracy movement also has drawn U.S. and world condemnation.

The Precarious Triangle: China, Taiwan, and United States

Taiwan continues to be used as a ploy in the political games between the world’s two superpowers, with both sides turning up the heat in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration coincides with U.S. lobbying efforts to help Taiwan secure observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 73rd World Health Assembly, as well as increased pressure from Beijing to have more say in the self-ruling island’s status

Taiwan’s actions of transparency and willingness to help and share information in the advent of the virus stand in stark contrast to claims from Beijing that its model for combating COVID-19 is superior. It remains to be seen if Beijing’s attempts to keep Taiwan out of the international spotlight and recognition will succeed

These developments are all the more relevant when viewed against the backdrop of U.S.-China competition plunging into an abyss.

Are the U.S. and China entering a new Cold War?

  • The US President has recently threatened to “cut off the whole relationship” with China over the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan.
  • Earlier this month, the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the Chinese journalists working in the country, limiting their work period to 90 days.
  • Last week, Trump extended for one more year a ban on U.S. companies from using telecom equipment made by “companies positing national security risks” (Huawei and ZTE row).

Record high temperatures have been recorded in Sino-U.S. relations in recent years and the pandemic is no exception to this. Competition rules the relationship, and flexibility and mature handling are in short supply on both sides. Uncertainty prevails, whether it on the question of resolving trade problems, or on the maritime front in the East and South China Seas, on technology, or on mutual mud-slinging on COVID-19-related issues

‘Novikov telegram’

  • In early April, China’s Ministry of State Security sent an internal report to the country’s top leaders, stating that hostility in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak could tip relations with the U.S. into a confrontation.
  • Intelligence community sees the report as China’s version of the ‘Novikov Telegram’, referring to a report Nikolai Novikov, the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, sent to Moscow in September 1946.
  • Laying out his analysis of the U.S. conduct, the report, sent to Russia said that the U.S. is determined on world domination and suggested the Soviet Union create a buffer in Eastern Europe.
  • Novikov telegram was a response to the “Long Telegram”, the 8,000-word report sent by George Kennan, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, to Washington.
  • It said that the Soviet Union was heavily armed and determined to spread communism, and peaceful coexistence was impossible.
  • Historians often trace the origins of the Cold War to these telegrams.

Nationalist overdrive

  • The current crisis in relations clearly shows that tensions will not go away. This situation is unlikely to ease until the U.S. Presidential election.
  • Post-election, temperatures could decrease, but a deep-rooted antipathy towards China has gripped the popular and political imagination in the U.S.
  • In China, the leadership and public opinion are both on a nationalist overdrive and the Trump administration is seen as the prime antagonist.

Relevance with the Cold War

  • There are similarities between the current crisis and the Cold War.
  • The political elites of both China and the U.S., like the Soviet Union and the U.S. back then, see each other as their main rivals.
  • We can also see this antagonism moving from the political elite to the popular perception — the targeting of ethnic Chinese professionals and others in the U.S. and of American individuals or entities in China is a case in point.

Way forward:

  • We don’t see the kind of proxy conflicts between the U.S. and China which we did during the Cold War.
  • The world is also not bipolar any more. There are third parties such as the EU, Russia, India and Japan.
  • These parties increasingly have a choice whether or not to align with either power as they see fit and on a case by case basis.
  • This leads to a very different kind of international order than during the Cold War.

Challenges ahead:

  • The Cold War was out and out ideological between the communist and capitalist blocs.
  • For China, a country ruled by a communist party where the primary goal of all state apparatus is preserving the regime in power, it’s always been ideological.
  • The U.S. has started realizing this angle about China now. The Republican Party has ideological worldviews, too.
  • If Trump gets re-elected, the ideological underpinnings of the U.S.-China rivalry could get further solidified.

Background:

What is Cold war?

  • The Cold War was a period (1945-1991) of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and its satellite states (the Eastern European countries), and the United States with its allies (the Western European countries) after World War II.
  • Post World War II, the world got divided into two power blocs dominated by two superpowers viz. the Soviet Union and the US.
  • The two superpowers were primarily engaged in an ideological war between the capitalist USA and the communist Soviet Union.
  • The term “Cold” is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides.

In 1991, Soviet Union collapsed due to multiple factors which marked the end of the Cold War, as one of the superpowers was weakened.

The end of the Cold War marked the victory of the US and the bipolar world order turned into a unipolar.

However, over the last decade, the position of the US as the world’s most powerful state has appeared increasingly unstable. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, non-traditional security threats, global economic instability, the apparent spread of religious fundamentalism, together with the rise of emerging economic powers (like Japan, Australia, India, China etc.) have made the world look more multipolar and has led many to predict the decline of the west and the rise of the rest.

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