From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Geopolitics after the Cold War era
Relations between the U.S. and China plunged to a new low in recent weeks. Ties between the two countries had started deteriorating well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Practice question for mains:
Q. How will economic nationalism take a lead in the post-COVID-19 Asia? Discuss in context to the rising tensions between the US and China.
Heading for 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).
A new national policy
- The rising tensions between the two superpowers have prompted many experts to warn of a new Cold War.
- A chorus of American voices now argues that confronting China should become the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy, akin to the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
- Hawks in the Trump administration openly push for a more aggressive approach towards Beijing.
- In 2017, the US’s National Security Strategy called China as “a revisionist power” seeking “to erode American security and prosperity” and “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests”.
Why is the US confronting China?
- 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.
- Record high temperatures have been recorded in Sino-U.S. relations in recent years and the pandemic is no exception to this.
- COVID-19 appears to have aggravated the crisis, pushing both countries, already reeling under trade, technology and maritime disputes, to take a more hostile position towards each other.
How has China responded?
- China has frequently urged the United States to abandon its Cold-War mentality and zero-sum game mindset.
- It has sometimes through the state-run media, hit back, calling Trump’s comments “lunacy” and Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, an “evil politician”.
A reminder of the ‘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 in US
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Back2Basics: Cold War
- During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers.
- However, the relationship between the two nations was a tense one.
- Americans had long been wary of Soviet Communism and concerned about Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical rule of his own country.
- For their part, the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians.
- After the war ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity.