US clinging to Cold War delusions: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce
Published: Sep 03, 2023 05:37 PM
Illustration:Xia Qing/GT

Illustration:Xia Qing/GT

Editor's Note:

The China-US bilateral relationship is one of the most important in the world. The trajectory of this relationship has attracted international attention. Still, the US is stepping up its efforts to suppress China on various fronts such as politics and diplomacy, economy, trade, technology, and military security, showing the true meaning of a cold war. The Global Times invites Chinese and foreign experts to expose the US' manipulation of the new cold war and reveal the damage it may potentially cause to the world.

This is the second installment of the series.

US President Joe Biden felt it necessary to deny that the US was waging a cold war against China at his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali last year. Despite this, US actions against China, in the form of strategic encirclement, military escalation, propaganda and economic warfare, and its trespass of every red line of China over the island of Taiwan, show the US is intent on a new cold war. 

The historical Cold War was fought between the US and the USSR from the end of World War II to 1991. It was "cold" because its principal antagonists did not fight each other directly, not because it was not violent. Millions died in its proxy wars, coups and purges in Latin America, Africa and Asia. "Cold War" was the umbrella concept for a bipolar struggle against an ideological, political and economic enemy. While the USSR was the ultimate adversary, the Cold War was in reality waged against peoples of the Global South fighting for independence and decolonization. The Cold War turned the world, especially the developing world, into a battleground.

Is the "Cold War" a useful analogy for what is happening today? Yes and no. There is the same mobilization, the same aggressive ambition; only this time it is attended by a delusional quality, an unmistakable air of unreality. History appears, said Karl Marx, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." 

The Cold War is back, above all, as the ritual re-enactment of the American Empire's foundational myth of heroic victory over Hitler and Communism. A gerontocratic US political class, some of whom are actually left over from the first Cold War, imagines itself in yet another apocalyptic struggle. Recycling Cold War tropes, reviving McCarthyism at home, and fighting Hitler once again, they have discovered in China a totalitarian octopus that must be defeated before it swallows Freedom and advanced semiconductors. The US has saturated the cultural space of the West with a propaganda campaign so relentless and malign it has cretinized its pundit class. It has hammered its vassals into a set of NATO-like alliances, such as the Quad and AUKUS, in preparation for war on China. It is attempting a technological blockade to cripple China's development. 

Yet this is not the postwar world, China is not the USSR, and the US is not what it once was.

The US economy was several times larger than the Soviet economy all through the Cold War. Against China, the disparity in economic and industrial capacity that won the Cold War runs in the other direction. Indeed it is China's increasing technological prowess that the US means to kneecap. This time the US is making an enemy of a nation with an economy that is in PPP terms larger than its own, with an industrial capacity greater than of the US, EU and Japan combined. 

The US and USSR led separate economic blocs. China and the US participate in one integrated global economy. They are so interdependent that some commentators dismiss the Cold War analogy, likening the relationship instead to a bad marriage. Meanwhile, China is not carving out a separate economic sphere. It is transforming the present one by bringing development and the common good to the center of the global agenda. To "contain China," the US is hacking at the sinews of a new globalization for all humankind. In doing so it is also attacking the developing world, impoverishing its allies and hurting itself. What it cannot do is isolate a global economic presence larger and more dynamic than its own. Not everyone in the US is excited about Washington's efforts. US CEOs have lined up to speak against the suicidal ideation of decoupling from China.

The Cold War involved an ideological conflict between rival universalisms. This time all the fanatical universalism is on one side. In a sort of dumbed-down Manichaeism, the struggle is now between "democracies and autocracies." The rest of the world asks only that different paths be respected. In President Xi's words, at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg: "There are many civilizations and development paths in the world, and this is how the world should be. Human history will not end with a particular civilization or system."

The Cold War was fought to re-impose Western supremacy after WWII. The order it imposed continued to subjugate the nations of the developing world after they had won nominal independence. Today world order is again at stake, except these nations have risen and are acting upon their sovereignty. The world is already multipolar, post-American and post-Western.

BRICS, overshadowing the G7, has just been enlarged. A long list of countries waits to join. The US is fighting a war already lost. Clinging to Cold War delusions amid its collapsing domestic order, the US is pitting itself not just against China but against a second era of decolonization, with declarations of independence ringing out from Niger to Argentina to Saudi Arabia.

This time is farce.

The author is a former Malaysian government official and a senior research fellow at Perak Academy, Malaysia. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn