US-China relations: invoking the Cold War ignores the Covid-19 pandemic and wider context

US-China relations: invoking the Cold War ignores the Covid-19 pandemic and wider context

  • The lack of an ideological conflict or clear geopolitical point of contention, as well as the presence of Covid-19, are differences that must not be overlooked
  • The looming threat of multiple waves of the pandemic, as in the 1918 influenza outbreak, could ultimately force the US and China into a more cooperative relationship

The deterioration of US-China relations has many fearful that conflict is inevitable as the two nations are increasingly entangled in a new cold war. However, these cold-war comparisons do more harm than good as they fail to consider critical differences between the two eras of competition.

The first difference is that the US-China rivalry lacks an ideological conflict that even remotely resembles the ferocity of US-Soviet relations from the 1940s to 1960s. Second, US-China competition lacks a geopolitical point of contention on the magnitude of the “German problem” that heightened the risk of conflict during the early Cold War. Third, there exists a common danger – the Covid-19 pandemic – that should encourage cooperation that didn’t exist during the Cold War.This isn’t to say there are no important sources of tension that divide the two powers. Rather, they are not as grave as those that made the Cold War so deadly, providing us with more hope for the future.Though some argue China is promoting an ideological replacement for Western liberalism, Beijing’s alternative offers little of the ideological fervour of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought following World War II. How could it when China’s entrepreneurs seek to emulate the wealth of their Western counterparts?

Unlike the Soviet Union, China is heavily integrated into the world economy and its businesses have expanded globally. There is no comparison with the Soviet Union’s socialist system, which quickly became an economic bloc with its member nations cut off from the rest of the world.