China in the New Cold War – Can the West Win Again?

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The Cold War as it lies in common knowledge lasted from 1946 to 1991. Now there is a new one but we cannot pinpoint the exact start of it. Experts believe it can be dated roughly to the beginning of 2018, the time by which the preceding processes had come together in a total, complex system. The US National Security Strategy, published at the end of 2017, already provided a systematic summary of the main global challenger, China, and this is reinforced by the Biden Administration’s Interim Strategy Guidance, published on 3 March 2021. What can be expected of China in 2023? How does China’s new Cold War continue?

With the emergence of China the great power games of the millennium will be played out not in Europe but rather in South-East Asia and the US-China rivalry that is also taking place there. Among Chinese experts and politicians, there is a widespread accusation against America that Washington sees them as a threat to its status as an emerging power. In fact, the US has shifted its attention from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region in the post-bipolar era. Furthermore, Washington enhances the US military’s position in Asia or bolsters the military capabilities of its allies and partners in East Asia. However there is a stark contrast as since the beginning of China’s reform era in 1978 no actor ─ other than the Chinese people themselves ─ has done more to assist China’s broad economic development than the United States. Open US markets for Chinese exports, large-scale US investment in Chinese industry, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese students in American universities were all essential to China’s fast-paced growth and technological modernization.

At the turn of the millennium, the “Chinese dragon”, aware of the incredible rate and dynamism of its economic development, moved
towards “expansionary development”. After the return of its former colonies (Hong Kong and Macau), China has now established its claim to
control Taiwan and the South China Sea. The emergence of this new direction coincided with the rise to power of the chieftains of the Chinese Communist Party from the 2000s onward: Hu Jintao and especially his successor, the increasingly authoritarian Xi Jinping. The US response was to use a strategy of counterbalance and pivot, but this came relatively late in the Obama era. China in the meantime has been a proponent of peaceful, diplomatic solutions and the building of economic relations. This is true even if threats to invade Taiwan are an almost constant mainstay of Chinese foreign policy communications.

But behind all the cordiality, China found a way to gain position through soft power and espionage. Dating back to the turn of the millennium, when the party’s leadership, under the hallmark of Hu Jintao, realized how simple and effective it was to counter the then more visible economic and military superiority of the US. According to De Burgh, the Chinese desire to learn (copy) was also at work here. European cultural (especially Italian) and technological (especially German automotive) superiority was used as a model for soft power. They set themselves the goal of having these if they were to become a serious power. And once the Chinese have made up their minds, they will not budge until they achieve their goal. That is why the use of secret services is also typical of the “Celestial Empire” in this area.

But Beijing’s goals are largely meant to protect CCP rule from external criticism, rather than to export China’s authoritarian model abroad. China’s approach does not target foreign democracies themselves and is a far cry from Mao’s or Stalin’s support of the communist revolution abroad. That is in part why China has refrained from taking part or becoming member of purely military blocs. The Sino-Russian relationship has also been on the backburner as Chinese premier Xi Jinping explicitly does not condemn Vladimir Putin’s war, but if the West were to impose sanctions on Beijing for its possible support of Moscow, the Chinese economy, already in dire condition because of its zero-COVID policy, would be hit hard. Au contraire, China is actually benefiting from Russia’s weakening international position and its growing contempt for a purely Russian sphere of interest in Central Asia. It is still clear that the strongest binding force between Russia and China is their shared aversion to every US administration’s pursuit of regime change and so-called color revolutions in their spheres of influence.

In order to break that down one of Premier Xi’s new ideas is the “Global Security Initiative”, which aims to transcend the traditional international system based on military alliances and blocs, all of which are aimed primarily at developing countries and seek to transform the Western dominated world order, to make it multipolar and to break American hegemony.

Eventually China does not seem to be willing to give up its own unipolarbased establishment or its alternative global great power agenda to
transform the world order. This has created the two sharply opposing poles of the Second Cold War: the US-led Western superpower circle on one side, and some form of China-Russia configuration on the other. The only hope is that the current cold confrontation does not turn into a hot war, that at the present stage of economic globalization and social globalism, the web of interdependencies, it is questionable whether a drastic unraveling of these threads is feasible at all, and to what extent the opposing sides would be harmed.

The analysis further detailing China’s position in the new Cold War, as well as a possible and desirable US response, along with a detailed look at how China has risen to be a challenger to the US on the world stage was originally published by and is available on ‘The Long Brief’.

The article can be purchased HERE.

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István started his studies in 2003 at the Department of Political Science, in the University of Miskolc. He received his degree in Political Science in 2008. The focus area of his degree was security policy issues in international relations. The topic of his thesis was the American geopolitics in the Middle East and the Iraq War. After graduation, he was admitted to the Hungarian Administrative Scholarship. He spent his traineeship in the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, and at the Hungarian Permanent Representation in Brussels, at the Press and Protocol Department. Meanwhile, he finished a correspondence master’s course in European and International Administration in the Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest. Formerly, he worked as a press officer in various ministries. He successfully completed training of journalism and project management.

István was the organizer and participant of numerous international conferences: Visegrád School of Political Studies in the V4 capitals (2015, participant); the annual World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg (2015, participant), the joint workshop of the CDDG Committee of the Council of Europe on e-democracy and e-government in Budapest (2015, organizer) International Conference on Christian Persecution in Budapest (2019, organizer) GLOBSEC Tatra Summit (2021, participant)
Currently, he works as a project manager and freelance journalist for various Hungarian online magazines focusing on security policy and the post-soviet region.

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