Washington hears echoes of the 1950s and concerns: is this a cold war with China?
The White House is loath to put a label on this multi-level approach, which may explain why Mr. Biden has yet to deliver a speech describing it in detail. But his actions so far increasingly resemble those of a world of competitive coexistence, somewhat bolder than the “peaceful coexistence” that Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev used to characterize the former Cold War. (Interestingly, after meeting in Switzerland this month with Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, China’s top diplomat said he objected to any description of the US-China relationship. as “competitive”.)
But if the administration still struggles with the terminology, they say they know what it isn’t.
“This is nothing like the Cold War, which was primarily a military competition,” one of Mr. Biden’s top administrative advisers said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity because at the White House de Biden, there is no area where words are measured more carefully than when speaking of relations with Beijing.
In July, Mr Biden’s senior Asian adviser, Kurt M. Campbell, told the Asia Society that the Cold War comparison “obscures more than it clarifies” and is “in no way helpful. , basically, to some of the challenges presented by China. “
The deep ties between the two economies – the mutual dependencies on technology, commerce and data that cross the Pacific in milliseconds on networks dominated by the United States and China – have never existed in the more familiar cold war. The Berlin Wall not only drew a sharp line between spheres of influence, freedom, and authoritarian control, it shut down most communications and commerce. In the year of its fall, 1989, the United States exported $ 4.3 billion in goods to the Soviets and imported $ 709 million, a harmless blow to both economies. (In current dollars, these numbers would be a little more than doubled.)
In this superpower stalemate, all of those lines are blurry, with Huawei and China Telecom equipment transmitting data across NATO countries, the Chinese-owned TikTok app running on tens of millions of American phones, and Beijing feared that the West’s crackdown on the sale of advanced semiconductors to China could cripple some of its national champions, including Huawei. And yet, even through a pandemic and threats of “decoupling,” the United States exported $ 124 billion in goods to China last year and imported $ 434 billion. This has made China the largest supplier of goods to the United States and the third largest consumer of its exports, after Canada and Mexico.