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No Cold War looming

By DAVID GOSSET | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-07-13 08:28


The paradigm of division that was one of the hallmarks of the last century does not mesh with the realities of today

The COVID-19 pandemic and the multi-dimensional crisis it has triggered has not ushered in a radically new world. It has only magnified some of the geopolitical trends which have been gradually emerging in recent years.

In this context, observing the continuation of the turbulence in Sino-US relations, some keep referring to a new form of Cold War as if this paradigm were apt to describe today's international situation. However, it does not make sense to interpret the world's current dynamics with the mindset that was used during the four decades following World War II, for at least four key reasons.

First, it is not an "iron curtain" blocking exchanges that symbolizes our time, but rather the "fiber-optic cable" that enables exchanges through high velocity connectivity.

Because it marks a deepened globalization with unprecedented levels of interdependence, the 21st century is very different from its immediate predecessor. In our contemporary era, no new Berlin Wall keeps the East apart from the West, but instead a world of digital networks, big data and 5G-that is before the 6G system swiftly supersedes it.

So far, the 21st century has witnessed three crises that have impacted the entire planet. They may have started in a specific location, but the effects rapidly extended around the world, circulating at the speed of modern information.

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept 11, 2001, the entire world was soon engulfed in the consequences.

In the second half of 2008, when a financial crisis crippled Wall Street, it quickly became a major global financial meltdown, triggering the formation of the G20.

The third major geopolitical shock of the century has been the novel coronavirus outbreak. In our open, urbanized and interdependent world, a previously unknown virus was able to proliferate within weeks, causing fear and harm in every corner of our planet. The extent of the pandemic's effects on the global economy has been proportionate to the scope of the international communication and transportation systems.

Beyond these three dramatic events, the long-term threats of environmental issues, be it from biodiversity loss or climate change, are constant reminders that the challenges of our time are global and they need to be addressed at a transnational level, using the tools of multilateralism.

Second, in the context of the 21st century, the talk about an absolute decoupling that has been aired by some in the entourage of the US President Donald Trump high-level consultants in the US administration is a mere fantasy. With a new focus on political sovereignty to balance the excess of economic and financial deregulation, a certain adjustment of the global supply chain is taking place, but decoupling will be relative.

A look at how China and the US interact reveals unambiguous, intertwined realities that will last. For instance, the links between China and the state of California have created a powerful ecosystem comprised of students, entrepreneurs, investors and innovators circulating between the two.

In the field of finance, China owns more than $1 trillion in US Treasury securities, accounting for around 15 percent of all its foreign holdings. More generally, like any company in the world, US enterprises, be it Apple, Starbucks or Boeing, cannot ignore China and its 1.4 billion consumers.

Third, it is not a serious suggestion that the Europe of 1945, the place where the Cold War had its roots, is similar to Europe in 2020. The words pronounced by Winston Churchill in 1946 are famous, signaling as they did the beginning of the antagonism between the West and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

Today, the European Union, made up of 27 members, is rich, cohesive and is developing a China strategy which is relatively autonomous from that of the US. In the words of Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union, this is the "Sinatra doctrine": the EU is doing things its own way.

Fourth, it is evident that the post-1978 China is closer to the Western societies than to the former Soviet Union. Under President Xi Jinping, China is accelerating its opening-up, while its peaceful rise is at the service of a universalist and humanist vision: the construction, with other forces, of a community with a shared future for mankind.

It is not the evocation of a new Cold War which derives from these four objective realities, but, on the contrary, the notion of an indispensable international collaboration to fight poverty, to maintain peace and to preserve the environment so mankind can stay on a sustainable path of progress.

This collaboration is illustrated at the macro-regional level by a series of integration processes from Southeast Asia to Europe. These integration processes have not only resisted the crises of the 21st century, but they grew faster, partly because of these shocks. The recent Franco-German strategic agreement on a $545 billion relief fund is a good example of such an evolution, since it means that Germany has accepted for the first time the burden of a shared debt. The pandemic is clearly acting as a catalyst for more European integration.

At the global level, statesmen and stateswomen need the vision and the courage to design and successfully negotiate the renewal of our instruments for better global governance. This presupposes that China and the US find a new strategic agreement allowing them to synergize for their own security, but also for global peace and prosperity.

The United Nations and its Security Council, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and others, might be imperfect, but as much as their establishment was the expression of the advancement of the international community, their reform in an era demanding more collaboration will epitomize even greater progress for humankind.

The author is a sinologist and the founder of the Europe-China Forum. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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