The world has witnessed various fundamental events that have shaped modern international relations: the Cold War is one such event. The Cold War between the United States as well as the Communist Soviet Union was fueled by postwar disputes, clashing philosophies, and territorial expansion fears. Several decades later, there are still cold wars worldwide due to ideological disagreements between states. They can be seen in the modern world through Sino-American ties. However, the spirit of the Cold War appears to be tormenting the world, ain addition, the new Cold War has become an increasing discussion feature of international relations and geopolitics as China-US ties have rapidly deteriorated in recent years (Shuyong et al., 2020). As a result, this discussion draws a critical parallel between the Cold War and Sino-US ties which are now the Second Cold War, particularly during Trump’s presidency from 2017 to 2021.
The global power structure changed dramatically during the dawn of the 21st century. The government’s lack of strategic vision in the US created a power vacuum, hastening the rise of new multilateralism with multiple power structures throughout the globe. After President Donald Trump ascended to power in 2017, the US has questioned the reputable conventional international relations on several issues, most notably by altering its policy with China. Arezina (2019) points out geopolitical rivalry pitting the US as well as China despite interdependence of their economies, a concept that is also supported by (Yafei, 2018). The United States’ growing concern has hampered multilateralism and globalization, with far-reaching effects and ramifications on fundamental relations globally.
During the Cold War, warfare was the most significant feature of the international system throughout the twentieth century. The conflict between Russia, as well as; the US changed the dimensions of warfare al together with collaboration between peoples and nations between 1945 and 1991. Even though the conflict did not dominate all aspects of international relations, it had a global impact. From Cape Town to Cairo, Sydney to Shanghai, the impact of political and ideological warfare was obvious [Bisley, 2007]. More significantly, the war produced rivalries and political fault lines that will continue to influence diplomacy long after the war is done.
The Cold War and the Sino-US relations exist between world superpowers with enough power and interests to take over the world and influence world politics (Dupont, 2020). During the Cold War, these states as superpowers had military weapons whose power exceeded those of other nations. The Soviet Union and the US conflict leads to economic turmoil during the Cold War. Therefore, the two groups emerged as the most powerful nations after World War II and became embroiled in a long global battle that featured the world’s greatest as well as the most deadly nuclear armaments, even though the outright conflict between the two nations never occurred (Bisley, 2007). Based on the nuclear warheads pitting the rivalry camps, the issue could trickle down hundreds of times over. Unfortunately, each side is always battling for superiority or rather a dominance.
Similar to the Cold War between 1945 and 1991, the New Cold War pitting the US versus China takes place between two world superpowers, each with very distinct political structures; thus, their rivalry and struggle are about more than just power. It is also about values and ideals. Furthermore, the rivalry and competitiveness between the US as well as China will be a ‘multi-decade battle for global hegemony.’ Furthermore, ‘a system-wide fight for supremacy’ exists between China and the US, and a second political division of the entire globe is imminent (Dupont, 2020). China is gradually rising as a global superpower with the potential of replacing the US in the global power structure.
There seems to be a growing consensus that China is establishing itself as a new superpower, ousting the United States from the world political structure. China’s remarkable recovery from the global economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as Donald Trump’s ally-alienating activities inside NATO over the last four years, have accelerated this dynamic significantly. The cold war was a conflict fueled by both traditional security concerns, both seeing the other as a threat to their survival and interests and ideological animosity (Arezina, 2019). Both represented universal philosophies based on the supremacy of their social systems. This is also the case with the current US-China relations.
China has irrefutably risen to raffle with the US to become one of the global economic powerhouses as well as it is also anticipated to take over by 2028. China’s military department seems to lag behind its counterpart, the US, but all efforts are now directed for effective strategies, implementation, and evaluation to attain the targeted goals and objectives. The Asina-based nation has enhanced its technological-oriented investment in weapons as well as innovation and development of several classified munitions, which poses a possible conflict, according to Arezina (2019). Hence, it is projected that chances of China surpassing the US in the economy, as well as military, might happen soonest than it is expected; but can Communist China ever be as fearsome and comprehensive a power as the United States has been for the last half-century.
When the Soviet Union, altogether with the US, battled out for superiority during the Cold War, US’s rivals, the Soviet Union, almost matched America’s strength, competing for alliances as well as military force control in 1949. However, the Soviet Union, even at its peak, could not stage a perfect competition economically or culturally against the US. Like the Soviet Union before it, China confronts various geopolitical as well as cultural challenges before attaining global superpower status equivalent to that of the US, according to Bisley (2007). Even if China’s economic and military prowess surpasses that of the US, it will not acquire the same degree of international recognition and acceptability. The democratic US has maintained an ideological, political, as well as cultural ascendancy over a Communist China.
Additionally, the new features align with those of the Cold War triggered between 1945-1991 because the wars are based on ideological disparities, that is, between the Capitalist US and Communist China and Russia. The ideological animosity of these states is a profound feature in both cases. Following World War II, the global power balance altered, resulting in a bipolar world dominated by the US altogether with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics abbreviated as (USSR) resulting in a Cold War (Bisley, 2007). Alternatively, the superpower states beefed up their military aptitudes, sought to spread their dominance globally, and disparaged competitors in the global scene.
The Soviet Union was based on a communist regime governed by a socialist government and a single political party, whereas the United States advocated for a capitalist free market system and multipartism. Unlike the United States, China and Russia are political systems characterized by authoritarianism and military power (Arezina, 2019). These features automatically threaten the sovereignty of the United States on may ultimately jeopardize its position on the international platform. This is because these features pose potential expansionism by such a state, and therefore the United States takes up ‘containment’ strategies to prevent any expansion from a potential rival.
Another paramount feature is that these nations were allies prior to the Cold war. The US, as well as; the Soviet Union were Allies, partnered during the Second World War against the Axis Powers. However, after the war, their partnership quickly turned into a 50-year long confrontation, also termed the Cold War, since it did not involve combat (hot war) (Bisley, 2007). The US and the USSR disagreed on how to improve and maintain security as well as how they were to rebuild Europe following the destruction during the war. Instead, the two camps expounded their military expertise while trying to outsmart each other on their military capabilities just in case another war ensued. This move created a rift between the two nations since they became potential threats to each other’s sovereignty.
Similarly, Trump’s administration has greatly compromised US-China relations and changed the US’s stance towards China (Shuyong et al., 2020). Before Trump’s administration, the United States and China had a constructive engagement (Arezina, 2019). The constructive engagement geared towards ensuring that the US could cooperate with China for its economic and political betterment. According to Shuyong and Boran (2020), thus; engagement depicts the US efforts in seeking a robust corporate partnership with China. Hence, based on this policy, the partnership would gradually transform as well as westernize China all together with integrating the Asian based states into a US control nation. Therefore, Shanghai Communique’s 1972 signing, the superpower nation acknowledged collaboration with the Chinese across Taiwan in one China. Moreover, Taiwan was also incorporated as part of it. It affirmed the ultimate goal of withdrawing all US military installations from Taiwan, marking the start of constructive engagement between the two countries.
On the other hand, the Nixon administration realized in the early 1970s that cooperation with Beijing would strengthen the US in its strategic war with the Soviet Union and ‘increase the flexibility of US diplomacy.’ Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said. ‘Beijing as well as Washington were in a convenience type of marriage that later bloomed into an emotive attachment, mostly due to China’s diplomatic ability.’ This position was maintained for the subsequent five US administrations until Barack Obama’s administration, when things took a turn for the worst (Arezina, 2019; Shuyong et al., 2020)). Following President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the US maintained a favorable approach to collaboration with Beijing. However, as then US head of State, Barrack Obama, officially kicked off his second term, nonconformist assessments on China’s started emerging, and numerous “China Threat” notions developed.
This caused Washington to perceive China’s actions directed to its neighbours as well as other nations due to geopolitical in addition to ideological animosity. Hence, based on continuous alignment and policies amended; in 2012, President Obama announced the US ‘Rebalance to Asia,’ signaling the United States’ increased reliance on what can be described as; ‘containment’ tactic against China, all geared at maintaining a balance of power across Southeast Asia (Arezina, 2019). Beijing seemed to become increasingly a ‘possible opponent’ rather than a loyal ally for US officials. This unfavorable attitude has partly grown due to predictions that China soon or the near future; China will ascend to top the universal system. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s election in January 2017 signified that the US would change its attention from global interests to domestic concerns in the coming years (Shuyong et al., 2020). Thus, it marked deterioration in US-China relations.
Trump presided over implementing economic policies that ignited a trade war by imposing tariffs as well as non-tariff barricades on Chinese imports. In accordance with his “America first” policy, he prioritizes national interests (Boylan et al., 2021). In March, the Trump administration launched a trade battle with China after numerous failed rounds of talks with Chinese officials citing unfair Chinese commercial tactics and intellectual property theft in the United States. As a result, the Trump administration removed the United States from a slew of foreign agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (Arezina, 2019).
His administration put duties on imported solar panels and washing machines in early 2018 and steel and aluminium later. Although duties were imposed on imports from various countries, Chinese goods appeared to be the primary focus. Beijing quickly retaliated by raising duties on American goods (Boylan et al., 2021). It is clear that its innate paranoia drives the US for American expansionism in both situations. Therefore, any nation that seems to be growing and developing ultimately becomes a potential rival to the US. Consequently, the US will take action declaring the other state an enemy and thereafter make moves intended to suppress the other nation.
This clearly depicts that the strategic resentment between the two ‘rivalry’ states has grown more pronounced in the past few years. Beijing contends that the US is attempting to limit China’s expansion and disallow China’s legitimate place across the world in order to extend the fall of the US as the world’s superpower, whereas the US assumes Beijing is attempting to destabilize US-dominated global institutions, jeopardize US’s economic stability, and interrupt American democracy (Dupont, 2020).
In conclusion, it is safe to say that the Sino-US relations may qualify a ‘new Cold War’ pitting China against the US, reflecting characteristics similar to those of the Cold War between the US against the Soviet Union. It is time for the US to let go of the ‘china threats’ and American expansionism obsession. The US administration must never forget that China is a critical ally and that if the two countries do not cooperate, the implications will be catastrophic for the entire world. Meanwhile, both Washington and Beijing must be aware that any major disagreement between two high-tech nations has the potential to alter the global landscape drastically. Therefore, in the long run, Washington and Beijing should discover mutual objectives that will bring them closer together, allowing them to address disagreements and set boundaries for potential disputes.
Alan Dupont (2020), “The US-China Cold War has Already Started,” The Diplomat, July 8, https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/the-us-china-cold-war-has-already-started/.
Arežina, S. (2019). US-China relations under the trump administration: changes and challenges. China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies, 5(03), 289-315. https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/pdf/10.1142/S2377740019500210
Bisley, N. (2007). The cold war. In R. Devetak, A. Burke, & J. George (Eds.), An Introduction to International Relations: Australian Perspectives (pp. 223-234). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139168557.021
Boylan, B. M., McBeath, J., & Wang, B. (2021). US–China relations: Nationalism, the trade war, and COVID-19. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 14(1), 23-40.
Shuyong, G., & Boran, L. (2020). The Myth of the New Cold War. Chinese Journal of International Review, 2(02), 2050008.https://doi.org/10.1142/S2630531320500080
Yafei, H. (2018). Will China and US Enter a New ‘Cold War?’. China Daily.