How The U.S.-China Cold War Will Be Different — And Why Little Can Stop It
The just completed G7 in Hiroshima has locked both sides in the simmering Cold War in Asia into what appears an inevitable confrontation that recalls the U.S.-Soviet showdown. But there are key caveats that make both the limits and risks harder to anticipate.
PARIS — In the lengthy final statement of the Hiroshima G7 summit, it is not until point 51 that China finally comes up. However, along with Ukraine, the Asian superpower was undoubtedly the top priority for both the United States and host country, Japan.
Even though they were buried within an all-purpose text, references to China have triggered a strong reaction in Beijing. "Systematic denigration," "Interference in China's internal affairs," "Regional destabilization..." The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not mince words following the G7 summit.
From Beijing's perspective, the Hiroshima summit reinforced the Cold War emerging in northeast Asia — one that is vastly different from the one that occurred between the United States and the USSR in the last century.
The statement, however, takes care to proclaim, "Our policy approaches are not designed to harm China nor do we seek to thwart China’s economic progress and development."
But everything that the Americans have decided, first under Donald Trump and now even more decisively under Joe Biden, effectively aims to slow down China's emergence as a rival to the United States.
Battleground of technology
Washington and its allies are carrying out what was known during last century's Cold War as "containment," a keyword of that era that refers to the establishment of a containment belt around the targeted country and building coalitions of allies.
This is currently happening in the field of advanced technology, the true battleground of the 21st century. By denying China access to the most advanced semiconductors and the machines necessary for their production, Washington has dealt a severe blow to the Chinese economy.
The major difference from the first Cold War is undoubtedly the level of trade and investment between the United States and its respective rivals. With the USSR, it was minimal at best. Last year, trade between the U.S. and China reached a record high of around $690 billion, hence the nuance now required between "decoupling" and "de-risking."
G7 Hiroshima Summit Session 8, 21st May 2023, discussing the situation in Ukraine with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Decoupling v De-risking
"Decoupling" would imply a complete halt, which is simply impossible on such a scale. “De-risking" means selectively severing ties only in sensitive sectors, avoiding dependence on China, similar to how some countries have done with Russian gas, for instance.
China positions itself as a victim.
China does not accept either de-risking or decoupling and positions itself as a victim. However, there are solid reasons behind American actions, including commercial practices, the threat to Taiwan, the militarization of maritime routes in the South China Sea, and human rights issues within China itself.
The G7 has left the door open for cooperation with China on global issues such as climate change, which is what European nations were advocating for. The United States itself seeks to re-engage in dialogue with Beijing to find a way to disagree without risking a conflict.
But it is hard to increase pressure while extending a hand. If dialogue does not resume between Beijing and Washington in the coming weeks, the prospect of a long-lasting Cold War in Asia will become a reality.
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