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Friday, August 28, 2020, 14:39
No new Cold War, just one-sided hostility
By Walther Buecklers
Friday, August 28, 2020, 14:39 By Walther Buecklers

Does the world really want another Cold War? The answer presumably is "No".

Yet when describing the deteriorating US-Sino diplomatic relations the phrase is being used with ever greater frequency by the international media. The accompanying narrative, however, seems to be deliberately opaque and gives little insight into what really drives the ever-greater escalation.

Events are just following each other often without discernable connection, and false equivalencies are attempted to assign blame for the diplomatic plight to both sides equally. The recent history of the deteriorating ties between the US and China, however, shows that it is only one side that is pushing for conflict, and that is the United States.

The US' July order requiring China to close its Houston consulate within 72 hours and China's tit-for-tat response forcing the closure of the US Chengdu consulate is just the latest example in a long line of steps signifying the deterioration of the bilateral ties.

Washington acts, Beijing reacts

But what is often framed as diplomatic spat is really a one-sided onslaught from the US against China which involves hostile actions through various means ranging from economic, diplomatic and propagandistic, to military in nature. Often US officials will defend their actions as necessary to counter Chinese assertiveness or "Wolf Warrior"-aggression, yet just a cursory look at the turn of events shows that the chronology is largely identical: the US acts, China reacts-sometimes.

The US-China trade war which started in 2018 is the most prominent example of hostile acts initiated by the United States in recent years. But in regard to relations with China, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The US has long maintained permanent military bases with tens of thousands of soldiers in China's neighboring countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea. US Navy vessels are a continuous presence in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, and US spy planes operate within 100 kilometers off China's east coast. And US military drills with China's neighbors are frequent.

This latent military threat, various sanctions the US imposed on China, paired with the anti-China rhetoric by senior US officials is the necessary context to judge the actions of either country. That the US is operating 11,000 km from its own shores should be indicative as to who the offensive force in this emerging conflict really is.

Multifaceted hostilities

But the US does not only maintain a strong military presence at China's doorstep and frequently makes its presence known, it also militarizes China's neighbors as it did when it deployed a missile defense system in the ROK in 2017.

The US also sold a missile upgrade to Taiwan in July 2020.

And the external threat of military might is complemented by the US' use of soft power which saw it invest millions of dollars in organizations and projects connected to restive regions within China like Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region via the Endowment for Democracy over the last decade. In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the US funded protest organizers, and-as revealed by Time magazine-supplied technology to help protesters evade law enforcement, violating China's sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs which governs international relations as laid out in the UN Charter.

On the international stage, senior US officials, most prominently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made concerted efforts to vilify China and establish it as the new enemy of the "free world". This narrative is backed by a conformist media apparatus that frequently publish and spread stories based on "government insiders", unsubstantiated "intelligence leaks" or China-critical studies from questionable institutions such as the "Victims of Communism Foundation".

This exercise in information warfare has resulted in a record high 73 percent of Americans viewing China unfavorably according to Pew Research-25 percent more than just two years ago. Due to US news media being echoed throughout the Western press, attitudes toward China in other English-speaking and European countries have likewise deteriorated.

In its official statements, the US administration gratuitously conflates the Communist Party of China, China, and anything Chinese, presenting a classic "yellow peril" picture which seems to validate the most ludicrous accusations. Now, the US government's target seems to be no longer only China or the CPC, but anything Chinese.

On the educational front, US Congress has forced the closure of over a dozen Confucius Institutes, which mainly teach Chinese language, in the US.

US politicians could conjure up more tricks

In the private sector, the US has sanctioned and/or banned Chinese high-tech companies and apps like Huawei, ZTE and TikTok, and is pressuring other countries to follow suit-a pressure to which the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have succumbed to a large extent. And US officials are reasoning out loud whether more than 200 million Chinese affiliated with the CPC should be prohibited from entering the US, and new immigration rules even target visa cancellations for Chinese students.

China, on its part, retaliated in the trade war, in the expulsion of journalists, and the recent closure of the consulates. But in all cases China reacted to US moves, not the other way around. The US has provided little evidence for the oft-leveled accusation of Chinese espionage, which Washington frequently uses as justification for its actions against Beijing. But even if true, it is an accusation the US has been shown to be guilty of itself to a major degree.

The US-proclaimed reasons for escalation of diplomatic tensions-containing China as a threat to the West-do not reflect reality. China does not entertain military bases close to the US mainland. The Chinese navy doesn't frequent the US West Coast or the Gulf of Mexico. China does not financially support protest movements in the US or anywhere else, and the Chinese government doesn't seed news stories denigrating the US all across the international media.

A question of hegemony

Drawing equivalencies between the actions of the US and China is unhelpful and misleading. The increasing probability of a new Cold War is not a result of sudden Chinese belligerence-the country's rise has been peaceful for 40 years-but is initiated by a nation trying to maintain its hegemony.

The current trajectory points to further escalation which will see bilateral diplomatic relations deteriorate even further, and one wonders what the US will do when non-violent means of escalation are exhausted.

There is hope that after the upcoming presidential election attitudes in the US will change. So far, the increasing tensions have resulted in major economic and diplomatic damage and few if any tangible benefits for either country, and one would hope that this insight rather leads to peaceful coexistence than another Cold War.

The author is a professional in fashion industry living in China for eight years. 

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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