A Cold War with China?

Niall Ferguson writes about the emerging Cold War between the U.S. and China. Ferguson calls this Cold War both inevitable and desirable. It’s desirable because, among other things, “it has jolted the U.S. out of complacency and into an earnest effort not to be surpassed by China in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other strategically crucial technologies.”

Even Henry Kissinger, architect of the policy of U.S.-Chinese engagement, acknowledges the new reality. He told Ferguson that “we are in the foothills of a Cold War.”

Ferguson argues, correctly I think, that Donald Trump didn’t start the Cold War. Rather, the war began four years before Trump came to power, when Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and concluded that, in the wake of the global financial crisis, there was no longer any need to hide China’s ambition. Ferguson views Trump’s election in part as “a backlash against the asymmetric payoffs of engagement [with China] and its economic corollary, globalization.”

Not only had the economic benefits of Chimerica gone disproportionately to China, not only had its costs been borne disproportionately by working-class Americans, but now those same Americans saw that their elected leaders in Washington had acted as midwives at the birth of a new strategic superpower — a challenger for global predominance even more formidable, because economically stronger, than the Soviet Union.

The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic has intensified Cold War II. As Ferguson says, “the Chinese Communist Party caused this disaster — first by covering up how dangerous the new virus SARS-CoV-2 was, then by delaying the measures that might have prevented its worldwide spread.”

On the surface, China is one of few subjects these days about which there is a genuine bipartisan consensus. Both parties seem to agree that China is menace. Indeed, Democrats have criticized Trump for saying nice things about Xi Jinping. And Nancy Pelosi expresses indignation over China’s treatment of Hong Kong.

In my view, this is nearly 100 percent smoke. Ferguson shows that the foreign policy establishment, from which Democrats nearly always end up taking their guidance, is alarmed by the deterioration of American-Chinese relations.

Recently, for example, John Lipsky, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, intoned that “the establishment of a productive and predictable US/China relationship is a sine qua non for strengthening the institutions of global governance.” And we know that Democrats are all about strengthening the institutions of global governance.

Democrats are also all about blaming America, especially when a Republican has his fingerprints on the policies in question. I strongly suspect that, if there is a Biden administration, its line will be that there is plenty of blame to go around for the deterioration in our relations with China, and that the important thing is to move forward, beyond the animosity.

In other words, it’s time for a reset — minus the button.

Thus, we may not have Cold War II, after all. Such a war requires bipartisan support of the kind that existed almost throughout the first Cold War. The Democratic party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy could prosecute a cold war. The Democratic party of Joe Biden, the current foreign policy establishment, and the new breed of politicians to the left of Biden and the establishment probably cannot.

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