The system of international organizations is increasingly in difficulty, while the tendency to do-it-yourself and “before us of the others” of various nationalisms, sovereigns and populisms is strengthening The United States treat their natural European allies as competitors to beat , except to require that they align on their positions – Archivio Avvenire
A “new cold war” between the United States of America and China. It is frightening to even evoke it. Unfortunately, however, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has spoken openly about it and Washington has been discussing it for some time. After Covid-19 the conflict worsened. Now a confidential document on American strategy in the world defines China as “the main enemy of the United States”, more than Russia and anyone else, towards which to adopt a “competitive approach”.
This does not necessarily mean war – and that the need to be clarified is another disturbing sign – but it imposes four priorities on China: “Protect the American people, the homeland and our way of life; promoting American prosperity; preserve peace through strength; increase American influence. ” In short, the People’s Republic of China is challenged on the field of economy, values and security.
The document marks the definitive abandonment of the American line, launched by the 1971 Kissinger mission in China, which helped this country to get out of the “cultural revolution” and favored Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening” season. Contrary to many expectations, capitalism did not bring western democracy to China. But the American commitment to involve her in international cooperation has produced important results in terms of relations between peoples and intercultural relations, a fact that, in historical perspective, matters more than all the others. This commitment sparked an unprecedented American myth in China – even the children of the Chinese Communist nomenklatura go to study in the USA – and created an original Sino-American universe (the one told in the film “The farewell. A good lie”). In short, the United States has been able to bring East and West closer together than ever before. With a policy that followed a plan and benefited the whole world. But, suddenly, the American leaders have removed all this, deciding that only Chinese economic growth, Huawei’s almost monopoly on 5G, the successes in the field of artificial intelligence, etc. counted. They determined that China has gone too far, that it has become too dangerous and that it should be stopped. And so they set aside what good they had done previously, to choose the path of confrontation.
At the time of the Soviet empire, opposing blocs of countries confronted each other. Today the dispute is disputed between two states thus fueling the worldwide disorder
This “new cold war” reflects the great changes that have taken place between the “old cold war” and today. After 1989 – but it’s a trend that started earlier – the world has become increasingly multipolar. We moved first to the G7, then to the G20 without however finding effective coordination methods to encourage common decisions on the most relevant world dossiers, from the environment to health, from armaments to many others, not to mention the economy. Today the “world disorder” increasingly puts the system of international organizations and cooperation between states in difficulty, while the tendency to do-it-yourself and “us first of all” of various nationalisms, sovereigns and populisms is strengthening. Short-lived bilateral relations, based on immediate interests and focused on temporary convergences, prevail. And, at times, strongly conflicting. The “new cold war” between the United States and China also falls within the model of bilateral relations: it is not a new G2 capable of structuring the whole of international relations as the US-USSR relationship has done for many years.
This is confirmed by a decisive difference between “old” and “new cold war”: this time the opposition is not between two blocs but two states. Between 1947 and 1989, the United States and the USSR were the undisputed protagonists of the world scene, but the two superpowers did not act in a solitary way, but as countries-guides of great alliances: NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Both have established strong relationships with a number of allied countries, exercising undisputed supremacy, but involving them in their decisions and development projects, following a plan: to contain the enemy blockade and stabilize the world order. Today, however, the United States treat its natural European allies as competitors to beat, devalue NATO and oppose the European Union, only to then demand that Europeans align themselves on their positions regarding China and more.
In the Chinese case, however, that “tax policy” of which Benoît Vermander spoke on “La Civiltà Cattolica”, recently landed in China with a highly appreciated Mandarin edition, weighs heavily. The classic tax system implemented by the Qing dynasty granted favors to states that recognized themselves as employees from China. Such favors today may include investments, preferential purchases, technical aids, diplomatic supports and so on, in exchange for alignment with Beijing policy. It is an effective system towards smaller countries, which however is ill-suited to many medium-large players in the multipolar world.
But even the superpowers cannot carry out large foreign policy designs without allies who, although not on an equal footing, are nevertheless involved in the elaboration of the overall design and consulted in the main decisions. And in fact today there are no great designs around. The Hong Kong case is eloquent. The model “one country two systems” entered the crisis and the USA stirred the problem to annoy Beijing, but without carrying out effective initiatives to really help the inhabitants of Hong Kong. Predictably, this interference reinforced the Chinese authorities’ determination to increase their power over the former British colony. Now the United States is preparing to close the circle: if Hong Kong’s autonomy ceases to exist, the favorable conditions that favor the presence of many American companies on the island will be abolished. A severe blow not only to the economy, but also to Hong Kong’s freedom.
The decline of the “one country, two systems” model, however, will be a defeat for everyone, including the two contenders. The United States will show that it does not know / want to intervene in the Chinese sphere and China will lose credibility and influence in the rest of the world. The problem will recur shortly with Taiwan, which is pushing to assert its independence. Should Beijing go so far as to intervene militarily to defend its “one China” policy, will the United States make war on Taiwan? It would be potentially catastrophic. Won’t they do it? Taiwan would fall under the sovereignty of Beijing in the worst way and China will find it increasingly difficult to play the role it deserves on the world stage.
It may be that as it is threatening there is a lot of tactics and much, even too much for a nation’s policy-leader, depends on the next American election. Certainly, however, in this “new cold war”, the two contenders show a foreign policy deficit. At least, as we Europeans understand it. Yes, Europe that, in the multipolar world, after the United States and China counts – if united – a little more than the others. When the international scenario is polarized around two contenders, all are subjected to very strong pushes to take a stand for one and the other. For us, Italians and Europeans, it seems obvious to choose the United States, for historical closeness, affinity, ties. But before slipping into the spiral in the Sino-American conflict, one should ask oneself if one should involuntarily encourage a growth in international tensions. In fact, Europeans have their own genius that they should not forget: the ability to think about the world as a whole, while living on the smallest of continents. Between the United States and China, it is best to first choose for Europe. Who knows, in doing so, we will not be able to help others think bigger.