The Path to a New Cold War Between the US and China



Trump’s strategy could trigger a new Cold War. It would not be a repetition of the past, but a new type that is liable to seriously damage the world economy.

1. One of the most unexpected consequences of the Donald Trump victory could be the unleashing of a new Cold War. When the world was expecting Hillary Clinton to win in the United States’ elections — and a more assertive attitude with regard to Russia and its intervention in the war in Syria and interference in Western Ukraine — the surprising victory of Trump altered this scenario. The possibility is emerging that there may be a new Cold War, not involving Russia, but involving China — and it would be a new type. The original confrontation, which lasted from 1946-1947 to 1989-1991, had as political-military actors the United States and the old Soviet Union. Both had numerous allies feeding proxy wars in various parts of the world. But that was the Cold War of the past. The new conflict now has the U.S. (the superpower who won the Cold War of the 20th century) and China (the emerging superpower which threatens the global primacy of the U.S.) as actors. Trump’s strongly critical statements about China during his electoral campaign – especially about trade and currency issues – were reiterated in his transition to the office of president, which he will assume in early 2017. This added controversy about an extremely sensitive matter for the People’s Republic of China: the issue of Taiwan (Formosa in the traditional Portuguese).

2. Trump’s behavior in matters of international policy is quite erratic and outside the normal approach of North American diplomacy. Among other consequences, this makes matters particularly unpredictable. Much will probably be this way throughout his term, or at least during the early days. In spite of it all, there seems to be some strategy regarding the two large political rivals: Russia and China. Fundamentally it seems to be based on pragmatic cooperation with Russia, explicitly or implicitly, recognizing its influence in Syria and the Ukraine. The recent appointment of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state — a millionaire connected with the petroleum industry (ExxonMobil) and a person who has good relations with Russia (In 2013 he was decorated by Vladimir Putin with the Order of Friendship medal) — reinforces the idea of the existence of this strategy. With China, Trump seems to want confrontation over matters that undermine the U.S.’s interests, especially on questions regarding trade and taxes. Voluntarily or involuntarily, this strategy, very much more assertive and confrontational than that of Barack Obama and John Kerry, could trigger a new Cold War. It would not be a repetition of the past but a new type that is liable to seriously damage the world economy. China, in contrast to the Soviet Union, is a large, authoritarian, capitalist power with a global economic presence and interlinked with the North American economy.

3. Pragmatic cooperation with Russia and economic-commercial-political confrontation with China are parts of a triangular relationship that seems to be configured for the near future. If this occurs as such, it could be a variant of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in the beginning of the early 1970s, which also surprised the world. Until that time, the U.S. and most of its allies did not recognize the Republic of China or the Communist government in Beijing as legitimate representatives of a single China. The situation had persisted since 1949, with the arrival to power of Mao Zedong and the escape of Chiang Kai-shek and his supporters to Taiwan. In this period, the Taipei government was considered the true legal representative of China, including within the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. strategic-diplomatic inversion has led to the recognition of the People’s Republic of China and of the government of Peking at the expense of Taiwan. This can only be understood in the context of the Cold War. The objective was to divide the Communist camp and separate, even more, China from the Soviet Union’s sphere. The war in Vietnam and the search for a political exit from it entered equally into this calculation. With China now competing with the U.S. for global supremacy, Trump seems to want to use a similar strategy, now favoring a rapprochement with Russia against China.

4. If such an alteration in North American foreign policy is confirmed, the consequences will be huge and also difficult to anticipate in all their breadth. On the positive side, the rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia could facilitate a negotiated solution to the war in Syria, but the conflict is complex and complicated and has multiple actors with hard-to-reconcile interests. As one example, Trump seems to want to call into question the nuclear treaty made with Iran by Barack Obama and John Kerry. But Iran is another key actor in the Syrian conflict and allied with Bashar Assad and Russia at the same time. How these two lines, currently on a collision course, can be reconciled is an open question. There is also the case with two traditional allies of the U.S. whose interests are directly in conflict, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, neither of which have an interest in having Syria under the sphere of influence of Russia and Iran. But, as already mentioned, the more complex scenario plays out in the relationship between the U.S. and China. Trump’s strategy appears to be to threaten relations with the Taiwan question and the One-China policy, so as to obtain concessions in America’s national interest, especially relating to trade and currency. Overall, for the government of Beijing, this also affects both its fundamental national interest and its sovereignty. It is not negotiable. Will the conflict escalate into a new Cold War? If such a scenario occurs, the geopolitical effects will also be felt, for example, in an obvious way in Korea and Japan. It’s enough to remember that China is an incontrovertible piece of the international political pressure on North Korea and the economic sanctions against its nuclear program.

5. Finally, a note about the new secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, who will take office in a particularly complex and tense international environment. The expectations as to what he can do are extremely high. It’s better to lower them. In spite of his merits — and there are many for this extremely demanding international job — the fact of his not being the first choice of any of the great powers has made life easier for him up to now. It has allowed, for example, that his profile, very connected to humanitarian and human rights issues, could be more easily accepted by Russia and China. But many of the rewards for this choice are poisoned gifts. Resolving the Syrian conflict, finding solutions for the refugee crisis, acting to protect of human rights, implementing climate treaties on a global scale, etc., all this awaits Guterres. All this has a strong political dimension that surpasses it. Ambitious actions and a strong leadership inevitably collide with the interest of one (or more) of the great powers, members of the Security Council with the power of veto. Paraphrasing former Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who held the U.N. post during the 1990s, the great powers don’t want a general (only sometimes), but a secretary.* At that time he was referring to the United States, which was opposed to his re-election. But something even worse than this could happen: a paralysis of the U.N. by a Cold War between the U.S. and China.

*Editor’s note: This phrase, while accurately translated, could not be independently verified.

About this publication

About Jane Dorwart 176 Articles
BA Anthroplogy, Reed College Portland, Oregon, Composer in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop under Lehman Engel., BS Musical Composition and Diploma in Computor Programming. Samba dancer and Portuguese Translator.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply