Americans like Australians

The Second Cold War began long ago - and Americans should learn to like it

The US and China are fighting for the status of hegemonic power in the 21st century. Henry Kissinger said this recently, and he is right. But if you really want to understand what China is up to, you have to read the futuristic novels by Liu Cixin.

"We are on the verge of a cold war." That's what Henry Kissinger said when I interviewed him at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing last November.

The statement itself wasn't particularly exciting. To me it seemed obvious since the beginning of last year that a new cold war - between the US and China - had begun.

This insight was not based solely on interviews with former politicians. I got the idea from reading too much Chinese science fiction, even if it doesn't make sense immediately.

First the historical. What began in early 2018 as a trade war over tariffs and intellectual property theft had turned into a technology war over the global domination of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co. in telecommunications networks by the end of the year. Added to this was an ideological confrontation in response to the way Beijing treated the Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region of China and the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, as well as an escalation of old tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, it was remarkable that Kissinger of all people admitted that we were in the opening phase of the Second Cold War.

«Chimerica» is over

Since his first secret visit to Beijing in 1971, Kissinger had been the chief architect of the US-China relationship policy that would remain a leitmotif of US foreign policy for 45 years. It changed the balance of power in the middle of the Cold War to the detriment of the Soviet Union. It created the geopolitical conditions for China's industrial revolution - the largest and fastest in history. And after China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), it led to this extraordinary financial symbiosis, which Moritz Schularick and I named “Chimerica” in 2007.

Why have relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorated so quickly that even Kissinger is now speaking of a cold war?

The common answer to this question is that President Donald Trump crashed into the “liberal international order” like a wrecking ball and that the Second Cold War is just one of the negative consequences of his “America first” strategy.

But this view attaches too much importance to the change in American foreign policy since 2016, while it does not take into account the change in Chinese foreign policy that occurred four years earlier - at that time, Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Future historians will recognize that the decline and fall of Chimerica began in the wake of the global financial crisis when a new Chinese leader concluded that there was no longer a need to hide the light of Chinese ambitions, as Deng Xiaoping has known recommended.

When average America voted for Trump four years ago, it was in part a backlash against the asymmetrical rewards of collaboration and its corollary, globalization. Not only had the economic benefits of Chimerica flowed disproportionately to China and its costs disproportionately borne by working-class Americans, these Americans saw that their elected leaders in Washington had helped as midwives in the birth of a new strategic superpower . China was a challenger for global supremacy who was economically stronger and therefore more formidable than the Soviet Union.

Trump's stance and China's conspiracy theories

Not only Kissinger admits that the relationship with Beijing has deteriorated. Orville Schell, who also long believed in cooperation, recently admitted that the approach had failed - “because of the deep ambivalence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) about how a really relevant cooperation might lead to calls for more reforms and changes and their definitive demise ».

Conservative critics of the collaboration, on the other hand, are keen to dance on their graves; they are pushing for the People's Republic of China to be economically "quarantined" and to drastically reduce its role in global supply chains. The more sinophobic members of the Trump administration feel inspired - especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, and Trade Advisor Peter Navarro. For three and a half years, they have believed the most important thing about Trump's presidency has been that he has changed the course of American policy towards China - a shift from cooperation to competition that was spelled out in the 2017 national security strategy. The events of 2020 could possibly have confirmed them.

The Covid-19 pandemic not only exacerbated the Second Cold War. It also showed its existence to those who doubted it last year. The Chinese Communist Party caused this disaster by first covering up how dangerous the new Sars-CoV-2 virus is and then delaying measures that might have prevented its global spread.

But meanwhile China wants to claim that it will save the world from the crisis it caused. The Chinese government has freely exported cheap and not entirely reliable ventilators, test kits and face masks in an attempt to turn a self-inflicted defeat into a victory. The Deputy Head of Information Department at the Chinese State Department went so far as to endorse a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in the United States and to Twitter an article claiming that an American team brought the virus when it participated in the World Military Games in Wuhan last October.

Chinese claims that the US was somehow behind the recurring waves of pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong are just as incomprehensible. The current conflict over the status of the former British colony is clearly “made in China”. As Pompeo has said, the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing "destroys" the partial autonomy of the territory and tears apart the joint Sino-British declaration of 1984 that guarantees that Hong Kong will be after its surrender to the People's Republic in 1997 could maintain its own legal system for 50 years.

The attitude of citizens and intellectuals

In this context, it is no great surprise that the American public's sentiments towards China have become significantly more rigid since 2017 - especially among older voters. China is one of the few issues these days where there is real bipartisan consensus. It is a sign of these times that the election campaign for the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is clearly aimed at portraying one's own man as more combative towards China than Trump. (Former National Security Advisor John Bolton's new memoir is grist to his mill.) On Hong Kong, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is no less indignant than Pompeo.

I have argued that this new cold war is both inevitable and desirable, not least because it has ripped the US out of complacency and made a serious effort to strategize about artificial intelligence, quantum computers and others important technologies not to be overtaken by China. But there is considerable resistance, especially from academia, to my view that we should stop worrying and learn to like the Second Cold War.

At a forum on world order after Covid-19 hosted by the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a clear majority of speakers warned of the dangers of a new cold war. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, instead advocated a model of cooperative competition (“coop-etition”) based on “rivalry and partnership”, in which the two nations compete and work together at the same time - just like Samsung and Apple have practiced for years.

Harvard's Graham Allison, author of the bestselling book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? Agreed; As a further example he cited the "friendly enmity" between the Song Emperor of China and the Kingdom of Liao on China's northern border. The pandemic, Allison said, “has brought to light the impossibility of clearly identifying China as an enemy or a friend. Rivalry and partnership may sound complicated, but life is complicated. "

"Building productive and predictable cooperation between the US and China," wrote John Lipsky, formerly a member of the International Monetary Fund, "is an inevitable step in strengthening the institutions of global leadership." The last cold war brought "the shadow of a global Holocaust" into the world for decades, said James Steinberg, a former deputy foreign secretary. "What can we do to create an environment that limits rivalry and creates space for cooperation?"

Elizabeth Economy, my colleague at the Hoover Institution, had an answer: “The United States and China could. . . get together to face a global challenge », namely climate change. Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution took a similar line: "Concentrating on competition between the great powers and neglecting the need for cooperation will not give the US a permanent strategic advantage over China."

All of this sounds very sensible if you leave one thing aside: The Chinese Communist Party is not Samsung, and certainly not the Kingdom of Liao. Rather, today's advocates of “rivalry and partnership” - as was the case in the First Cold War, when academics (especially after 1968) tended to be doves rather than hawks - overlook the possibility that the Chinese are not interested in friendly enemies to be. They know very well that this is a cold war because they started it.

The position of the Chinese intellectuals

Of course, there are also Chinese scientists who complain about the dwindling cooperation. The economist Yu Yongding recently teamed up with Kevin Gallagher of Boston University and advocated a reconciliation between Washington and Beijing. But in Beijing this is no longer the official opinion. When I started speaking publicly about the Second Cold War at conferences last year, I was surprised that there was no objection from delegates from China. In September I asked one of them - the Chinese board of directors of a major international institution - why this was so. "Because I share your view!" He replied with a smile.

As a visiting professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, I experienced the ideological turn of the tide under Xi myself. Scientists studying taboo subjects like the Cultural Revolution face investigative proceedings or worse. Those who take a more combative stance towards the West are encouraged.

Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua, recently said that, unlike the First Cold War, the Second Cold War will be a purely technological competition, with no proxy wars and high-risk nuclear policies. In an interview published on April 18 in the Beijing Cultural Review, Yao Yang, dean of the National School of Development at Beijing University, also spoke openly.

"To some extent, we are already in the position of a new cold war," he said. “There are two main reasons for this. The first is the need for Western politicians to blame others "for the origins of the pandemic. “And to that end, the westerners now want to make this a 'system question'; They say China was able to implement such drastic controls [in Hubei Province] because China is not a democratic society, and hence the power and ability to enforce it came from there. "

But that's thin beer compared to the hard stuff that the leader of the pack of “Wolf Warrior Diplomats”, Zhao Lijan, regularly serves on Twitter. "The Hong Kong Autonomy Act passed by the US Senate is nothing but a scrap of waste paper," he tweeted recently in response to the retaliation of the US Congress against China's new security law for Hong Kong. By his own standards, that was an understatement.

The tone of the official Chinese communiqué after Pompeo's meeting with Yang Jiechi, the head of the Communist Party's Foreign Ministry on June 17 in Hawaii, was cold war at its finest. With regard to the persecution of the Uyghurs, “the US side has been urged to respect China's efforts to combat terrorism and deradicalization, to stop using different standards on counter-terrorism issues, and to stop using Xinjiang-related issues as an excuse to get involved to interfere with China's internal affairs ».

And this shrill tone, which is so reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era, is not limited to the United States alone. China's government is pulling against any country that has the boldness to criticize it, from Australia - according to the editor of the party-controlled Global Times, a "chewing gum that sticks to China's shoe" - to India and the United Kingdom .

Anyone who hopes to find cooperation again or at least cultivate friendly enmity with Beijing underestimates the influence of Wang Huning, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (the most powerful body in China) and most influential advisor to Xi since 2017. In August 1988, Wang spent six months in the United States as a visiting scholar; he visited more than thirty cities and nearly twenty universities. His report on this tour, "America against America" ​​(published 1991), is a - in places devastating - criticism of democracy, capitalism and the culture of America (racial discrimination is particularly emphasized in the third chapter).

The key: Liu Cixin

But as I said, the book that taught me the most about how China sees America and the world today is not a political text, but a work of science fiction. “The Dark Forest” was Liu Cixin's 2008 sequel to the hugely successful novel “The Three Suns”. It is difficult to overestimate Liu's influence in contemporary China: He is courted by the technology firms in Shenzhen and Hangzhou, and as one of the faces of Chinese creativity in the 21st century, he has been officially endorsed by none other than Wang Huning.

In "The Dark Forest", where the story of the invasion of the earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarians is continued, Liu's three axioms of "cosmic sociology" come into play.

First: "Survival is the primary need of civilization." Second: "Civilization is constantly growing and expanding, but all of the matter in the universe remains constant." Third: “Chains of mistrust” and the danger of a “technological explosion” in another civilization meant that there could only be the law of the jungle in space.

In the words of the hero of the novel Luo Ji: «The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter who wanders through the trees like a ghost. . . he tries to appear noiseless. The hunter must be careful because other hunters like him lurk everywhere in the forest. If he comes across other life, regardless of whether it is another hunter, an angel or a devil, a newborn baby or an old man, a fairy or a forest spirit, he has no choice but to turn it off. In this forest, hell are the other living beings. . . every life that reveals itself to another [must] be eliminated immediately. "

Kissinger is often (I mistakenly mean) regarded as the outstanding exponent of Realpolitik. But the book is far harder than realism. It's intergalactic Darwinism.

You can of course say that this is science fiction.Yes, but «The Dark Forest» gives us an insight into something that we think too little about: how China Xis thinks. If China has already declared the cold war on us, we no longer have to decide whether or not we are in a cold war with China.

Not only are we already in the fringes of this new cold war; these foothills are also covered with an impenetrable dark forest designed by China.

Niall Ferguson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard and is currently a Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California. The above essay was written for Bloomberg Opinion - it appears here exclusively in the German-speaking area. We thank Bloomberg for giving us the opportunity to reprint. - Translated from English by Helmut Reuter.