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Is a 'Cold War' really emerging between China and the US?

Published on June 28, 2021 8:17 AM

by Stephen Collinson

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(CNN)A new generation of US cold warriors just got some powerful validation.

When Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about China in a New York Times interview in Paris, he offered one of the most revealing insights yet into the Biden administration's foreign policy. Blinken said that France and the US were "on the same page" on the need to defend the free world order as China gains influence. The alternative, he warned, would be no global order or a Chinese-led world order that would be "profoundly illiberal in nature." Blinken, who delivered a tough US message to China in dust-up talks in Alaska in March, was putting colloquial meat on the bones of President Joe Biden's recent warnings that democracy is under threat -- and not only from illiberal trends in the West.

The concept of a new Cold War between the US and China is hardening into conventional wisdom in Washington. One critique however is that the original version was an ideological clash between the capitalists of the West and the communists of the Soviet bloc. The US and China are locked in a more classic duel between a rising power and a declining one -- though Blinken certainly seems to see an ideological component.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will soon lead the Chinese Communist Party's 100th anniversary celebrations, has adopted a far more strident position for China on the global stage. Beijing is flexing its power in the Pacific and beyond, and events in Hong Kong show Chinese repression on the march within its territory. But whether Beijing is interested in (or capable of) waging a global battle against democracy is another question. Is Xi's use of populist nationalism primarily designed to maintain support for an autocratic ruling Party, or is it the authentic expression of a globally ambitious Chinese foreign policy? Either way, policymaking in Washington and nascent US political campaigns -- from economics to infrastructure and from defense improving the social safety net -- is increasingly formulated through a lens of inevitable confrontation with China. From here, at least, it's getting harder to ...