Is the comparison of the Sino-American conflict with the Cold War flawed?
Some China old hands and experts often point out that the present rivalry between the USA and China can´t and shouldn´t be compared with the Cold War analogy as it was flawed. As example the article „China Isn’t the Soviet Union. Confusing the Two Is Dangerous.-An unusual confluence of events World War II led to America’s bitter rivalry with the U.S.S.R. That pattern is not repeating.“on December 2, 2019 by Melvin P. Leffler, History professor emeritus at the University of Virginia in The Atlantic.
„Reviewing the early history of the Cold War clarifies how inappropriate the Cold War analogy is for thinking about Chinese-American relations today. Present challenges come not after 30 years of global war and depression, but after 30 years of peace among the great powers, economic growth (the great recession of 2008–09 notwithstanding), and substantial poverty eradication (especially in countries like China and India). Whereas world trade contracted and tariffs proliferated during the interwar years, the past three decades have seen a significant expansion of global commerce, foreign investments, and capital flows. And unlike the Soviet leaders who segregated their economy from the capitalist West in the immediate aftermath of World War II, China has made itself the hub of an international capitalist marketplace.
When the Cold War began, there was hardly any trade with or foreign investment in the Soviet Union, so the United States had virtually nothing to lose economically from isolating its rival. In today’s context of economic interdependence, complex supply chains, and Chinese lending and dollar reserves, Cold War policies would have sharply different consequences for the international economy and the health of the capitalist system.
The configuration of geopolitical power is also different today. At the onset of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had ample opportunity to exploit power vacuums in Europe and Asia. Present-day China is surrounded by a wealthy and proud Japan, a robust and nationalist India, a Russia seething over the loss of former Soviet territories, and a vigorous, competitive South Korea. Chinese opportunities do not abound; indeed, they are circumscribed.(…)
Reflecting on this history, Americans should understand the impulses behind Chinese actions and prudently appraise them. But we should not encourage or institutionalize a zero-sum approach to international politics, as Cold War metaphors incline us to do. The United States should solidify its long-standing alliances in the western Pacific; enhance relations with India, Vietnam, and Indonesia; and thwart intellectual-property theft and Beijing’s practice of forcing Western firms to hand over proprietary technologies as a condition of entering the Chinese market. But at the same time, the United States must acknowledge and nurture a mutuality of interests in promoting open trade and freedom of navigation, fighting climate change and preparing for pandemics, and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations with global reach.
Americans must not dismiss a rivalry inherent in China’s regional ascendancy and growing global power, but the United States should also seek to avoid a spiraling era of distrust in which both sides will lose.“
Funny that The Atlantic a decade ago published a programmatic article „How we fight China“ by Robert Kaplan on the frontpage. Maybe the metaphor of a New Cold War might be a little bit flawed, but the situation is similar to the international constellation between the rise of the capitalist authoritarian German Reich and the capitalist democratic British Empire before WW I and China´s New Silkroad seems similar to Germany´s Baghdad railway at that time. It was an era of rapid globalization and the struggle between two capitalist great powers about the No.1 world power status similar to the conflict between the USA and China today. And is the Cold War comparison totally flawed? China is rapidly developing into a new sort of totalitarianism with its social bonus system and surveillance system as Kai Strittmatter’s book The reinvention of dictatorship describes in detail and in Xinjiang, we may even see a sort of genocide against the Uighurs in future. Therefore China can’t be seen as just another capitalist power who has no ideological taste.
And China is not a real capitalist country, but still has a lot of state control, is more state capitalism. And the trend of the political system in China is going from an authoritarian one-party dictatorship towards a new totalitarian one-man-dictatorship which also attracts other authoritarian dictatorships in the world. Therefore you just can´t see it as just another capitalist country, but it is a state-capitalist neototalitarian great power that wants to become the No.1 world power with its Chinese exceptionalism. Therefore you can’t treat China as just another harmless capitalist country you only have some small trade disputes with and nothing more. Therefore the comparison with the Soviet Union is not that flawed and if Joshua Wong in his Berlin speech declares the fight for freedom in Hongkong as a fight between the free world and the unfree world, especially neototalitarian China he is partly correct.