US v China: is this the start of a new cold war?

Published: June 22, 2020  Updated: June 22, 2020 at 9:13 am EST

George Kennan, the US charge d’affaires in Moscow at the end of the second world war and the author of the famous Long Telegram in 1946, captured in his memoir how quickly perceptions in international relations can change.

The man widely seen as the intellectual author of the cold war recalled that if he had sent his telegram on the nature of the Soviet threat six months earlier, his message “would probably have been received in the state department with pursed lips and raised eyebrows. Six months later, it probably would have sounded redundant, a preaching to the converted.”

Now, as the US squares up to China over the coronavirus pandemic, it appears as if many of the world’s democracies are, as rapidly as in 1946, reaching a new perception of the world order. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has declared the Chinese Communist party to be the number one threat to security, greater than international terrorism, and a growing number of countries seem to agree.

Those who argued that the a more economically liberal China would produce a more politically liberal China fear they have found themselves on the wrong side of history. From the airspace over Taiwan to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the frozen Himalayas on the border with India and the reefs surrounding the Xisha/Paracel islands in the South China Sea, Chinese assertiveness is prompting a reassessment. The Australian government’s decision on Friday to call out a state-led cyber-attack – without naming China – was only the latest evidence of a new mindset.

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