The Cold War construct is neither sufficient nor instructive in understanding the changes that are afoot in the international order.
Walking into the foreign ministry press conference on December 19th last year, Hua Chunying was her stoic self. As she stood before the crowd of reporters, with the blue and white map of the world depicting China at its center behind her, she spelt out Beijing’s position on the US administration’s new National Security Strategy. The document had identified China, along with Russia, as a “competitor,” “rival” and “revisionist power.” This marked a significant shift in Washington’s strategic posture as it pertains to Beijing. In response, America, Hua said, must “abandon outdated notions such as a Cold War mentality.”
Alas, the Cold War is in vogue these days. A quick internet search will lead to a plethora of pieces, from alarmist to analytical, discussing the contours of an emerging Cold War between China and the US.The meat of such analyses is the understanding that China’s rapid rise coupled with the relative decline of the West is leading to tectonic changes in the world order.
This is manifesting in China becoming more authoritarian internally and assertive globally, via growing business and investment ties, deepening socio-political linkages across countries, expanding hard power capacity and projecting its system as an alternative governance model vis-a-vis liberal democracy. All of this is occurring at a time when the West is still struggling economically while suffering from a crisis of faith, with fundamental values, such as free trade, respect for human rights, international cooperation and commitment to multiculturalism under pressure from conservative and right wing forces.