The “new cold war” between China and the United States: a dubious paradigm

Analysis. Politicians abuse it, experts love it. The phrase “new cold war” brings together so many followers that it claims to impose itself with the force of evidence, like a simple geopolitical weather report. It starts from a reality: the confrontation between the United States and China, which has been looming for years, has taken on an unprecedented scale following the health crisis. But the parallel with the period 1947-1991 does not necessarily help to overcome the vertigo of the moment and to understand it.

The Cold War was an ideological and military competition between the communist and liberal models, between two patriotic stories too, with universal pretensions. There is no longer a solid and demarcated camp on either side, only two sharp nationalisms, which respect each other less and less. After 1939-1945, the United States helped Europe recover and assured it of protection. This is now their greatly degraded image and the damaged transatlantic link. For its part, Xi Jinping’s China, which has become aggressive and revengeful against the West, claims to offer an alternative development model, where personal fulfillment is only material and submission, erected in virtue. This China, workshop of the world which has also become its laboratory thanks to technology transfers, claims the notability due to its economy and its demographic weight.

“China does not want a cold war with the United States, but the very use of this expression consolidates its place as the only systemic rival”

The main actors contribute to the confusion of times by using this formula of “cold war”. Like Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who believes that the attacks on Beijing are pushing the two countries in this direction. China still claims to defend multilateralism, but on its terms: if it allows it to continue expanding its spheres of economic influence. Much less, when large numbers of members of the World Health Organization (WHO) demand a thorough investigation into the origin of Covid-19. China does not want a cold war on all fronts with the United States, each of whose protagonists would pay the price. But the very use of this term consolidates its place as the only systemic rival.

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The concept of ” cold War “ also corresponds to the ideological lexicon in vogue in Washington. China is seen as an adversary who intends to take the United States from the roof of the world. Consequently, confrontation becomes a matter of survival and does not tolerate restrictive frameworks such as multilateralism, international law or disarmament treaties, the negotiation of which, at the time of the Cold War, nevertheless constituted an essential belt of dialogue. between Americans and Soviets. Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, WHO, trade agreements, competition in artificial intelligence and weapons of the future: everywhere the Sino-American duel is hardening. Europe dreams of a place in the middle, as a player that is both temperate and sovereign.

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