Simon's Unsubject Podcast
The New Cold War with China

The New Cold War with China

In the Shadow of Past Empires
This is what the CCP wants: to remain in power at all costs. To do that, it must curtail Western influence in China, Asia, and beyond.

The specter of the Cold War continues to haunt us.

In an essay written in 1945, George Orwell introduced the term "Cold War" with prescient clarity, capturing an era where nuclear arsenals promised mutual destruction and rendered total conquest impossible. This led to perpetual tension, a world caught in a seemingly endless cycle of suspicion and power play. This idea inspired his creation of the dystopian reality in "1984."

And here we are, in the Cold War that never ends.

We have unwittingly stepped into its sequel. Those of you familiar with television dramas know that the second season always builds on the past, yet twists the plot in unexpected ways. The collapse of the Soviet Union was such a twist; it was a catalyst that awakened the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the indispensable power of global financial influence. One year after the Soviet dissolution, Deng Xiaoping addressed the CCP, saying, "reform, or perish" (誰不改革誰就下台); his statement aims not at any particular individual CCP cadre but at the collective ethos of the Party.

This is what the CCP wants: to remain in power at all costs. To do that, it must curtail Western influence in China, Asia, and beyond.

From the CCP's vantage point, 1991 was not just about the Soviet collapse. The subsequent democratization of South Korea and Taiwan, and the social upheavals in Central Asia and the Middle East, were signs of Western encroachment. Putin's Russia and the CCP coined the term "The Color Revolution," reflecting their deep-seated anxiety.

With Russia's diminished stature, the CCP sees a need to fill the void. A strategic outline emerged around 2000. Joshua Cooper Ramo, a director of Kissinger Associates, dubbed the idea the "Beijing Consensus." It was a blueprint for advocating for less developed economies to adopt an alternative approach to development, one that includes the right of sovereign nations to remain authoritarian and to resist the economic and political paradigms enforced by the West.

So, who heeds the CCP's call? Look no further than Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Belt and Road cohort; this is the region once influenced by Soviet presence, now courted by China. The CCP's outreach is strategic, not coincidental. It leverages the vacuum left by the USSR, inserting itself as the new center of gravity.

While many people like to understand the CCP through the lens of political realism, anxious over geopolitics, I prefer to analyze their behavior as if they are rational agents with simple motives: to stay in power and to maximize personal interests over collective ones. Ideological labels, such as socialism, nationalism, or "whateverism," are mere convenient veneers for the CCP's survival.

Nationalism is the CCP's most potent strategy, but it is a double-edged sword. The CCP is acutely aware of the make-or-break nature of nationalism but has no choice but to deploy it, especially as its economy falters and the regime fails to deliver on its promise to lift six hundred million Chinese in rural areas out of poverty.

Some of us in the free world view China merely as a competitor, but the CCP perceives everything that exists, domestically and globally, as an existential threat. This is why the CCP rejects a rule-based global system and convinces itself and others that the status quo is nothing but a Western ploy to maintain dominance.

For years, we in the free world harbored hopes that China's economic liberalization would bring political freedom. The CCP sees this as how the West weaponizes economic might against it; therefore, it is doing exactly the same thing to the rest of us, weaponizing economic might to advance its political agenda.

From 1986 to 1989, we witnessed how the CCP closed the "Narrow Corridor" for liberalization. The Tiananmen Square crackdown and the Soviet demise solidified the CCP's resolve to fortify its control, especially over the financial system.

Under the façade of "One Country, Two Systems," the CCP accesses the benefits of the global economic order while insulating itself behind a firewall. The "One Country, Two Systems" policy is not a pledge to Hong Kong, but a survival strategy for the CCP.

The new Cold War revolves around China's quest to succeed where the Soviet Union failed: to reshape the global economic and financial order. From the Beijing Consensus to the Belt and Road Initiative to courting the Global South, the CCP's agenda is deceptively alluring, especially to some in the progressive left living in the free world.

But as we stand here today, we should bear in mind that "1984" was not just a cautionary tale for those behind the iron curtain, but a warning to all of us. Don’t fall prey to a totalitarian regime disguised in the trappings of power, at home and abroad.

This is my prepartory note for the panel discussion at Freedom & Progress 2023 on Nov 6, 2023. The subject of the panel discussion is “The New Cold War with China.”

Simon's Unsubject Podcast
unsubject covers (1) random topics; (2) the Sinosphere and the world; (3) economics, public policy, and technology.