By Kumar David –
A new cold-war has been declared. Mike Pompeo launched the first fusillade on 23 July and formerly asked the world to “distrust” China and called for a grouping of nations in an anti-China alliance. He demanded the overthrow of the Chinese state: “The world cannot be safe until China changes . . . the world must change the Chinese Communist Party, or China will change us as is happening in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang . . . Xi Jinping is not destined to tyrannize inside and outside China forever, unless we allow it . . . it is time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies”. If ever there was a declaration of cold-war this is it! Phrases used by Pompeo include: “Frankenstein China”, “communist cover-up of the virus”, “distrust and verify” and “securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time”. The world is engaged in a new strategic ball-game and Sri Lanka will be entangled
The US perspective is consolidation of a ring of military steel round China. In the mind of Trump-Pompeo the technique used to achieve the fall of the USSR can be repeated. The Soviet economy was technologically and managerially backward, the Eastern European regimes were hated, neoliberalism had weakened Soviet power especially defeat in Afghanistan, and the Sino-Soviet split had debilitated communism. The rigid and grossly inept centrally directed economic system was not delivering nor was it up to the challenges of global competition. It was a half rotten low-lying fruit ready to fall. Regan’s star-wars challenge was too pricy to compete against. Gorbachev’s bungling created fissures through which popular uprisings overthrew the regime. But the big difference is that the USSR’s was a sick and hobbled economy, China’s is strong and robust. The pocket book talks louder than the diplomatic megaphone. China’s rise as an economic force is relentless and Asians have adjusted; even those with no affection for Beijing.
Whether Bidden-Harris or Trump-Perry win it will make little difference to international policy. (There will be domestic policy differences but don’t hold your breath). There will be no difference in Middle East, trade and China policy. There is bipartisan determination to roll back China. Both Dems and GOP are fearful of its rise to economic supremacy and its climb up the military ladder. Pompeo may be a worst-case cold-war freak but there is bipartisan support for the overthrow the PRC state and using Hong Kong as a Trojan Horse. (See video here and article here)
The QUAD strategy
The US and UK are working in collaboration. India is in the game for its own purposes which dovetails into the cold-war QUAD strategy (India, US, Japan and Australia). America is also coordinating a six-nation alliance – QUAD plus Australia and Canada. West Berlin, physically deep in East German territory, was a dagger in the heart of the wounded animal – propaganda, espionage, escape routes. The US-UK approach is to use Hong Kong in the same way. Money is in abundance while propaganda and training flow in through its open borders. But it won’t work because China’s economy is strong, American finance capital in decline. The Communists are moderately popular for material achievements, like pulling 600 million out of poverty. To destroy this state is impossible, but it is possible to make life uncomfortable for Beijing in global hard and soft power stakes.
It is colossally stupid of China to be drawn into skirmishes with India on remote Himalayan glaciers, whoever is right or wrong. After the 1962 fiasco China has no option but to avoid skirmishes even if it has to concede territory. China’s other ailment is again territorial greed; it throws its weight around the South China Sea bullying Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and tiny Brunei. Geopolitically it is seen in poor light because of aggressive rampaging. Chinese zealots feel they can do no wrong, maybe “If Adam and Eve had been Chinese, we would all still be living in paradise”. If China gets its nose bloodied in these regional encounters I will be pleased. The new security laws to eliminate rioting and treason in Hong Kong was necessary, but repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang is inexcusable. Nevertheless, this cannot be generalised into support for the US cold-war agenda.
For what ungodly reason did China initiate a border war with India in 1962? A dispute over the sovereignty of remote border regions. Even if Mao believed this territory was legitimately Chinese, military action was unforgiveable. Initiated by China the war was a huge foreign policy faux pas that bedevils relations to this day. India would not be sucked into the US laid quagmire now but for border conflicts. Indians feel that they cannot shy away from China containment. To add burlesque, India has banned 120 Chinese Apps, even children’s videos, for “strategic” reasons!
The depth of China hate among Indian scholars is on display in this quote: “The People’s Republic of China ruled by the communist party is an evil, inhuman and corrupt political entity, committed only to the expansion of the power and wealth of its leadership” and the writer adds “the leadership is on a mission to become the sole superpower with the rest of the world as vassals the Chinese empire” – Gurvinder Singh.
Is China cornered?
China’s economic power, aid and development reach outdo America’s; its economic clout is too big and its diplomatic footprint too large for America to contain. It accounts for one-third of global growth; its trade with Asian nations exceeds its trade with any other bloc; its intra-Asian trade is greater than Asian trade with the rest of the world. The West’s share of the global economy is shrinking and will continue to do so. The longer-term disparity is starker. The IMF projects that, by 2024 China’s contribution to global growth would exceed 28%, while that of the US would fall from 13.8 to 9.2%. Huawei stunned America with its stellar leap into the 5G stratosphere. The US produces half-a-million STEM graduates a year, China 4.5 million. The US is pressuring the world to roll back top Chinese technology but is it doable? Can one make water flow upstream?
China however is isolated compared to the large compact of sytates that the US has cobbled together; it needs allies, not only economic ones. Is the dispute with India irreversible, can it draw Vietnam, Indonesia and those on the Belt closer and can it loosen the US grip on Japan and S Korea? Former prime minister Kevin Rudd observed that an official Australian delegation poured “buckets of cold water on participation on contingency planning”. Asia recognises that the poise of the global order has changed and that China’s rise – backed by economic and military capability – must be accommodated. The Philippines and Vietnam have shifted strategy, markedly. China has already achieved parity with the US in several military modernisation areas and is likely to double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade according to a 2020 Pentagon report. Beijing is thinking long-term, as Chinese are wont to do; America’s obsession with quick fixes won’t do. The Chinese will not rule the world one day in the future, but a far more multipolar order is a certainty within less than a generation.
[Next week I will have a follow up on the implication of this new cold war for Sri Lanka and explain why in my view we are overestimating our strategic importance for all players except India]