The term ‘cold war’ was used for the first time by a famous British writer George Orwell in his essays on the tensions between the USA and USSR, now Russia. Generally, the term is used for all rivalries between two parties other than direct military confrontation. History has witnessed a long episode of tensions between the two great powers which lasted for decades. Due to ideological differences, the United States and Soviet Union had a wide range of encounters with one another in shape of proxies, arms race, alliances, soft power, propaganda and assassinations in the 20th century. At the end of the 20th century, the USSR couldn’t stand against its strong opponent and broke peacefully into smaller states. Thus, the US emerged as a victor and the world saw tremendous economic development after that. Today, once again, the international political system is on the verge of another cold war. China has gained a great economic status and is challenging the US’ hegemonic position in political and economic aspects of the world. The China-US cold war seems different than the Soviet-US cold war, and here are a number of factors which distinguish the former from the latter.
The recent tensions between China and the US increased when both powers held the other responsible for the coronavirus outbreak. In this regard, US President Donald Trump has mentioned several times that the said virus was prepared by China in the laboratory of Wuhan. Moreover, issues of Taiwan, Hong Kong and South China Sea have exacerbated tensions between the two powers. Most recently, the US applied a number of diplomatic restrictions on Chinese diplomatic staff in its territory.
For the last thirty years, the focal point for China has been its economy. China has kept its border disputes aside and has concentrated on its exports and building its economic infrastructure. Due to its special economic intentions, China is investing billions of dollars in various states of the world. It has not only earned a special status in its own region, but all over the world. A number of states have their concerns regarding the strong political and economic position of China in the international system. Among these states, the United States of America is at the top of the list, and it seeks to contain the increasing influence of China in the international arena.
A number of prominent political analysts consider trade an important area of confrontation between the US and China. Due to such different dimensions, the results of this cold war seem different and more destructive than that of the former one. Back in the 20th century, the Soviet and US conducted a 45-year-long confrontation through their proxies. It was an ideological battle, in which the US capitalist system and western liberal democracy stood tall against the Soviet communism. Without any direct military confrontation, the strong economy of the Soviet collapsed, and it disintegrated into 15 small states. But if the second cold war prevails for a long time, the end is expected to be much different from the former one, because in past, the US-allied European Nations were not very economically dependent on the Soviet nation, as they are now on China. Currently, China exports a large amount of raw materials to a large majority of European powers and US allies. For instance, Germany, the most influential state in the European Union after Brexit, has exported materials worth 96 billion Euros to China in 2019. Moreover, it has sold 4,200,000 cars to China since 2017. Unlike the Soviet Union, China is one of the main stakeholders in the European economic infrastructure. Under such circumstances, it will be not possible for a number of European states to stand with the US against China.
Similarly, due to the strong economic and political status of China in world affairs, it will not be possible for several states to remain neutral in this cold war, as they did in the Soviet-US rivalry. For example, India, despite its inclination towards the USSR, remained neutral in the cold war. However, this time it will be difficult for it to keep a non-alignment policy. India is already engaged with China in border disputes, and any further increase in border issues will certainly push India away from China to the US camp. At the same time, India imports a huge amount of raw materials from China for its industries, therefore, in case of any further escalation, it will be difficult for India to fulfil its needs from any means other than China. Moreover, it will also be tough for countries like Japan and South Korea to experience such tensions between the two major powers on its doorsteps, despite the fact that both have a close alliance with the US.
Along with other trade activities, the Belt and Road Initiative, a signature project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has extended to Latin America, in which 16 out of 20 states are participating. Argentina is one of the most prominent states of the said region to have a very close economic partnership with China. Moreover, China and Brazil have raised their economic ties up to 13 percent. Similarly, like Latin America, China has deep influence over the African continent as well. China is giving 40 percent of its total aid to various African states, which is a huge amount of economic aid.
Along with the economic sector, China is also increasing its presence in global political and health affairs as well. Currently, China is heading four out of fifteen United Nations institutions. In 2017, China-backed Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom was elected as Director General of the World Health Organization and the UK candidate was defeated, which shows the effective influence of China in international institutions. Under such scenarios, this opponent of the US is different and much more influential as compared to the previous one. China has gained a tremendous position in the international system, and almost the entire world economy, including US, is dependent on it. Along with hard power and economic position, China is also pursuing its soft power in different ways. In such circumstances, if the new cold war continues for a longer time, the result might be quite destructive, as China is different from the Soviet Union in a number of economic and political aspects.