The Dangers of a New Cold War

If theres one things Democrats and Republicans can agree on, its that China is becoming an issue

If there’s one things Democrats and Republicans can agree on, it’s that China is becoming an issue

Andrew Shlomchik, Staff Writer

The United States is in a state of political divide more severe than anything we have seen in the past century of American politics. Just when it seems as though the polarization and vitriol cannot get any worse, it does. The conflict between Democrats and Republicans has reached a stalemate, where neither party can truly get the upper hand over the other, but can quite effectively subvert whatever policy goals the other seeks to enact. This has resulted in a virtual paralyzation of the American political system. Critical legislation cannot be put into law, yet the problems in our nation persist. However, both parties have zeroed in on what they see as a resolution to this problem, something that might be able to allow them to overcome the partisan divide. This dangerous solution, funnily enough, is also our biggest new competitor: China.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, during which the US had been embroiled in a decades-long Cold War, the United States enjoyed unrivaled supremacy as the only superpower on the world stage. No country could compete with the United States, not economically, diplomatically, and certainly not militarily. But in recent times, it has become clear that China may soon surpass the US on all of these counts. China’s checkered human rights, from the concentration camps interning Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the violent suppression of dissent in Tibet, makes many in the West wary of an even more powerful China. Geopolitically, China has already begun to assert itself. In the South China Sea, China regularly commits flagrant violations of international law, and especially in recent months, an invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese seems more likely than at any time since the Taiwan Straits Crisis of the 1950s. To those on both the left and the right, China is the new Soviet Union, the new superpower on the block that presents the most consequential geopolitical and ideological threat of our era.

Both parties are united in viewing China as a threat to the United States, meaning that legislation to combat China is one of the few things that can actually get passed in the US government. For months, Democrats have worked to pass a massive infrastructure bill, against staunch Republican opposition. To create greater support for the bill, Democrats have framed the bill as part and parcel of US efforts to combat China. To avoid falling behind, they argue that we must revamp our nation’s infrastructure, increase investments into R&D, as well as improve the social services of the nation. Simultaneously, Republican lawmakers have sought to thwart the Democratic agenda by leveraging China’s status as an ideologically communist state. Aversions to communism and socialism run deep in American politics, meaning that framing Democratic legislation as even remotely communist or socialist has proven to be an effective strategy on the right. Furthermore, by adopting a hawkish stance on China, Republicans have enabled themselves to not only harness the nationalist tendencies that a foreign adversary tends to bring out in Americans but also to attack political enemies they consider “soft on China”.

China presents an unparalleled agenda for Republicans and Democrats to bring about their respective political ends, and they have sought to exploit this tool. By stirring up more adversarial sentiment in the American populace, by painting China as the new Soviet Union and a threat to be feared, they risk causing severe damage to the United States. It is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy; claiming that China is the enemy will make China the enemy in the eyes of Americans, and regardless of whatever minor political gains are made as a result of this strategy, such unrestrained animosity is not healthy. There is an opportunity for the US in China as a major competitor. Competition is good, for it can drive the US to make better investments in our infrastructure, cultivate better diplomatic ties with our allies, and innovate technologically. 

But the direction in which we are heading is not one of health competition. It is one of hate and animosity, distrust and suspicion. Framing an entire nation and all of its actions with a purely adversarial lens is a dangerous thing. It can foment xenophobia and racism at home, and destroy any hope of collaboration between Chinese and American scholars. On major issues like climate change, cooperation is essential, but it would be rendered impossible should our relationship with China become too adversarial. Even the suggestion of such a collaboration would be unthinkable. And in such a state of heightened tensions, the likelihood of conflict breaking out, both in the cyberworld and the real world, would become far greater. It recently came out that a high-ranking US military leader had to assuage the fears of his Chinese counterparts that the US was considering an attack on China.

The adversarial view towards China being pushed by American politicians for their political ends is a double-edged sword. As China becomes more powerful, these feelings and sentiments will only become more powerful, and it is naïve of our politicians to think they can control them. Should this begin to spin out of control, the consequences could be devastating for the United States. I do not argue that we should not compete with China; on the contrary, we must compete with China, and I believe such healthy competition will reap benefits. But attempting to start the next Cold War to further a political agenda-this will not end well. Let us not allow this to become the next foreign policy disaster for the United States.