Some international scholars believe the world is in the midst of “Cold War II” when they assess the global vicissitudes of the decade and especially what the Donald Trump administration has done in the past year. In their writings, they create an illusion that the Cold War is back and call on people to stay vigilant.
However, despite some apparent symptoms, such an inference does not stand up to careful analysis.
As we know, the Cold War refers to estranged relations leading to a “neither-war-nor-peace” paradigm between the former Soviet Union-led socialist camp and the US-led Western capitalist camp. The phrase “Cold war intertwined with cold peace” could best interpret the world situation back then, which actually created a relatively closed, independent and tranquil environment for both sides to achieve development. In the Cold War, the iconic building was the Berlin Wall, and the iconic struggle was a tit-for-tat row over differing ideologies.
Technology and people-to-people exchanges were severed, and foreign trade was only carried out within the same camp. There was no so-called “globalization.” In economy, the East and the West established the Council for Mutual Economic Aid and the Organization for European Economic Co-Operation to take charge of trade relations within each of their camps. In military, NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization were founded, regularly showing off their muscle with military drills. But when a contingency occurred, they could do no more than putting on a fierce look. That was why the Cold War lasted for nearly four decades.
Look at the situation now and we can find numerous contradictions but almost nothing similar to the Cold War of the past century.
In the first place, the international disputes have yet to split the world into “East and West” in the traditional sense: There’s neither a socialist camp nor a new capitalist one. Confrontation between the two camps is key to a Cold War taking shape.
When it comes to ideology, nations have adopted divergent governing philosophies, which nonetheless, lend themselves to control. Ideological confrontation is the theoretical foundation of a Cold War. The “community of common destiny” initiative envisioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping has been gaining more understanding and support from most countries in the world. It demonstrates that no new ideological cold war is being waged.
Furthermore, no military groups have been founded in response to each other’s formation, neither have economic councils. In contrast, all countries endorse the United Nations and the World Trade Organization for their respective roles.
Therefore, it’s right to say that the world is undergoing dramatic changes but in no way has it ushered in a new “Cold War” as claimed by certain experts.
It’s more accurate to say that modern society is gradually entering a “tangled warfare” cycle, which includes the confrontation between unilateralism and multilateralism, and skirmishes among small blocks, as shown by some European countries. Moreover, the US leads several partners and rivals against the international community. For instance, Washington keeps roiling the waters over the South China Sea territorial disputes and adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy. The world’s biggest power also disagrees with most Western countries and truly became a loner on the world stage.
In such “tangled warfare,” no permanent partnerships will come into being; what we will see is the temporary adjustment and regrouping of various interest relationships, which has added to the difficulty of global governance.
Protectionism under the Trump administration has gone to the extreme. Then, extreme protectionism will precipitate new “trade terrorism” to launch retaliatory attacks on other countries, thus expediting other forms of “tangled warfare.”
Now there’s neither the creeping chill of the Cold War era nor the projected row between different thoughts or ideologies. The world today is characterized by contention among countries for their own development interests. The values and credit systems revered by Western states have already been fragmented by their own destructive behavior.
In Europe, the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula, the Indian Ocean or the Asia-Pacific region, we are indeed mired in the muddy waters of “tangled warfare.”
In this world-class melee, the US is seen everywhere. It’s still bustling about even though it has reached its “physiological limit.” That Washington attempts to show its presence in every corner of the world constitutes the fundamental reason for the “tangled warfare.”
Fortunately, China has stayed calm and stable in this warfare and assumed its role in bringing about tranquility in the world. For the rest of the world, China is an honest, law-abiding and responsible large country as well as a trustworthy partner. What will ultimately lead the world is integrity and sincerity, not fighter jets and guided missiles.