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Tag Archives: Cold War


America and China Are Entering the Dark Forest

To know what the Chinese are really up to, read the futuristic novels of Liu Cixin.

By Niall FergusonBelfer Center

Photo of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus march past a banner depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping at their living squatter inside the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing during a plenary session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, May 25, 2020.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong
Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus march past a banner depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“We are in the foothills of a Cold War.” Those were the words of Henry Kissinger when I interviewed him at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing last November. 

The observation in itself was not wholly startling. It had seemed obvious to me since early last year that a new Cold War — between the U.S. and China — had begun. This insight wasn’t just based on interviews with elder statesmen. Counterintuitive as it may seem, I had picked up the idea from binge-reading Chinese science fiction.

First, the history. What had started out in early 2018 as a trade war over tariffs and intellectual property theft had by the end of the year metamorphosed into a technology war over the global dominance of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co. in 5G network telecommunications; an ideological confrontation in response to Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region and the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong; and an escalation of old frictions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, for Kissinger, of all people, to acknowledge that we were in the opening phase of Cold War II was remarkable.

Since his first secret visit to Beijing in 1971, Kissinger has been the master-builder of that policy of U.S.-Chinese engagement which, for 45 years, was a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy. It fundamentally altered the balance of power at the mid-point of the Cold War, to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union. It created the geopolitical conditions for China’s industrial revolution, the biggest and fastest in history. And it led, after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, to that extraordinary financial symbiosis which Moritz Schularick and I christened “Chimerica” in 2007.

How did relations between Beijing and Washington sour so quickly that even Kissinger now speaks of Cold War?

The conventional answer to that question is that President Donald Trump has swung like a wrecking ball into the “liberal international order” and that Cold War II is only one of the adverse consequences of his “America First” strategy.

Yet that view attaches too much importance to the change in U.S. foreign policy since 2016, and not enough to the change in Chinese foreign policy that came four years earlier, when Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Future historians will discern that the decline and fall of Chimerica began in the wake of the global financial crisis, as a new Chinese leader drew the conclusion that there was no longer any need to hide the light of China’s ambition under the bushel that Deng Xiaoping had famously recommended.

When Middle America voted for Trump four years ago, it was partly a backlash against the asymmetric payoffs of engagement and its economic corollary, globalization. Not only had the economic benefits of Chimerica gone disproportionately to China, not only had its costs been borne disproportionately by working-class Americans, but now those same Americans saw that their elected leaders in Washington had acted as midwives at the birth of a new strategic superpower — a challenger for global predominance even more formidable, because economically stronger, than the Soviet Union.

It is not only Kissinger who recognizes that the relationship with Beijing has soured. Orville Schell, another long-time believer in engagement, recently conceded that the approach had foundered “because of the CCP’s deep ambivalence about the way engaging in a truly meaningful way might lead to demands for more reform and change and its ultimate demise.”

Conservative critics of engagement, meanwhile, are eager to dance on its grave, urging that the People’s Republic be economically “quarantined,” its role in global supply chains drastically reduced. There is a spring in the step of the more Sinophobic members of the Trump administration, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger and trade adviser Peter Navarro. For the past three and a half years they have been arguing that the single most important thing about Trump’s presidency was that he had changed the course of U.S. policy towards China, a shift from engagement to competition spelled out in the 2017 National Security Strategy. The events of 2020 would seem to have vindicated them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has done more than intensify Cold War II. It has revealed its existence to those who last year doubted it. The Chinese Communist Party caused this disaster — first by covering up how dangerous the new virus SARS-CoV-2 was, then by delaying the measures that might have prevented its worldwide spread.

Yet now China wants to claim the credit for saving the world from the crisis it caused. Liberally exporting cheap and not wholly reliable ventilators, testing kits and face masks, the Chinese government has sought to snatch victory from the jaws of a defeat it inflicted. The deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s information department has gone so far as to endorse a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and retweet an article claiming that an American team had brought the virus with them when they participated in the World Military Games in Wuhan last October.

Just as implausible are Chinese claims that the U.S. is somehow behind the recurrent waves of pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. The current confrontation over the former British colony’s status is unambiguously Made in China. As Pompeo has said, the new National Security LawBeijing imposed on Hong Kong last Tuesday effectively “destroys” the territory’s semi-autonomy and tears up the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, which guaranteed that Hong Kong would retain its own legal system for 50 years after its handover to People’s Republic in 1997.

In this context, it is not really surprising that American public sentiment towards China has become markedly more hawkish since 2017, especially among older voters. China is one of few subjects these days about which there is a genuine bipartisan consensus. It is a sign of the times that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign clearly intends to portray their man as more hawkish on China than Trump. (Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new memoir is grist to their mill.) On Hong Kong, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, is every bit as indignant as Pompeo.

I have argued that this new Cold War is both inevitable and desirable, not least because it has jolted the U.S. out of complacency and into an earnest effort not to be surpassed by China in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other strategically crucial technologies. Yet there remains, in academia especially, significant resistance to my viewthat we should stop worrying and learn to love Cold War II.

At a forum last week on World Order after Covid-19, organized by the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a clear majority of speakers warned of the perils of a new Cold War.

Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google, argued instead for a “rivalry-partnership” model of “coop-etition,” in which the two nations would at once compete and cooperate in the way that Samsung and Apple have done for years.

Harvard’s Graham Allison, the author of the bestselling “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”, agreed, giving as another example the 11th-century “frenmity” between the Song Emperor of China and the Liao kingdom on China’s northern border. The pandemic, Allison argued, has made “incandescent the impossibility of identifying China clearly as either foe or friend. Rivalry-partnership may sound complicated, but life is complicated.”

“The establishment of a productive and predictable US/China relationship,” wrote John Lipsky, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, “is a sine qua non for strengthening the institutions of global governance.” The last Cold War had cast a “shadow of a global holocaust for decades,” observed James Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state. “What can be done to create a context to limit the rivalry and create space for cooperation?”

Elizabeth Economy, my colleague at the Hoover Institution, had an answer: “The United States and China could … partner to address a global challenge,” namely climate change. Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution took a similar line: “Focusing only on great power competition while ignoring the need for cooperation will not actually give the United States an enduring strategic advantage over China.”

All this sounds eminently reasonable, apart from one thing. The Chinese Communist Party isn’t Samsung, much less the Liao kingdom. Rather — as was true in Cold War I, when (especially after 1968) academics tended to be doves rather than hawks — today’s proponents of “rivalry-partnership” are overlooking the possibility that the Chinese aren’t interested in being frenemies. They know full well this is a Cold War, because they started it.

To be sure, there are also Chinese scholars who lament the passing of engagement. The economist Yu Yongding recently joined Kevin Gallagher of Boston University to argue for reconciliation between Washington and Beijing. Yet that is no longer the official view in Beijing. When I first began talking publicly about Cold War II at conferences last year, I was surprised that no Chinese delegates contradicted me. In September, I asked one of them — the Chinese head of a major international institution — why that was. “Because I agree with you!” he replied with a smile.

As a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, I have seen for myself the ideological turning of the tide under Xi. Academics who study taboo subjects such as the Cultural Revolution find themselves subject to investigations or worse. Those who take a more combative stance toward the West get promoted.

Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua, recently argued that Cold War II, unlike Cold War I, will be a purely technological competition, without proxy wars and nuclear brinkmanship. Yao Yang, dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, was equally candid in an interview with the Beijing Cultural Review, published on April 28.

“To a certain degree we already find ourselves in the situation of a New Cold War,” he said. “There are two basic reasons for this. The first is the need for Western politicians to play the blame game” about the origins of the pandemic. “The next thing,” he added, “is that now Westerners want to make this into a ‘systems’ question, saying that the reason that China could carry out such drastic control measures [in Hubei province] is because China is not a democratic society, and this is where the power and capacity to do this came from.”

This, however, is weak beer compared with the hard stuff regularly served up on Twitter by the pack leader of the “wolf warrior” diplomats, Zhao Lijian. “The Hong Kong Autonomy Act passed by the US Senate is nothing but a piece of scrap paper,” he tweeted on Monday, in response to the congressional retaliation against China’s  new Hong Kong security law. By his standards, this was understatement.

The tone of the official Chinese communiqué released after Pompeo’s June 17 meeting in Hawaii with Yang Jiechi, the director of the Communist Party’s Office of Foreign Affairs, was vintage Cold War. On the persecution of the Uighurs, for example, it called on “the US side to respect China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts, stop applying double standards on counter-terrorism issues, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

And this old shrillness, so reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era, is not reserved for the U.S. alone. The Chinese government lashes out at any country that has the temerity to criticize it, from Australia — “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe” according to the editor of the Party-controlled Global Times — to India to the U.K. 

Those who hope to revive engagement, or at least establish frenmity with Beijing, underestimate the influence of Wang Huning, a member since 2017 of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the most powerful body in China, and Xi’s most influential adviser. Back in August 1988, Wang spent six months in the U.S. as a visiting scholar, traveling to more than 30 cities and nearly 20 universities. His account of that trip, “America against America,” (published in 1991) is a critique — in places scathing — of American democracy, capitalism and culture (racial division features prominently in the third chapter).

Yet the book that has done the most to educate me about how China views America and the world today is, as I said, not a political text, but a work of science fiction. “The Dark Forest” was Liu Cixin’s 2008 sequel to the hugely successful “Three-Body Problem.” It would be hard to overstate Liu’s influence in contemporary China: He is revered by the Shenzhen and Hangzhou tech companies, and was officially endorsed as one of the faces of 21st-century Chinese creativity by none other than … Wang Huning.

“The Dark Forest,” which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.”

First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.” Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.” Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle. In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji:

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost … trying to tread without sound … The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people … any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.

Kissinger is often thought of (in my view, wrongly) as the supreme American exponent of Realpolitik. But this is something much harsher than realism. This is intergalactic Darwinism.

Of course, you may say, it’s just sci-fi. Yes, but “The Dark Forest” gives us an insight into something we think too little about: how Xi’s China thinks. It’s not up to us whether or not we have a Cold War with China, if China has already declared Cold War on us. 

Not only are we already in the foothills of that new Cold War; those foothills are also impenetrably covered in a dark forest of China’s devising.


The Berlin Wall Is Gone, but Its Lessons Remain

Socialism is not cuddly or compassionate, and it has been tried many times, to ruinous effect. Will today’s young people have to learn this all over again?

By JOHN FUNDNational Review

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years until in 1989 a wave of citizen protest forced the East German Communist government to open its gates. We’ve now gone longer without the Berlin Wall than it existed.

As we marked the anniversary, on November 9, of its demise, I couldn’t help but recall with wonder how astonishingly quickly the ugly scar of the wall along with its guards, dogs, and mines were all swept away in a wave of euphoria.

I visited the Berlin Wall and crossed into East Germany several times during the 1980s while I worked at the Wall Street Journal. I will never forget the brave dissidents I met on the Eastern side who never accepted the wall, or the bureaucrats who ran the state machinery that sustained it.

While it now appears easy to simply divide the East German population into oppressors and the people they oppressed, I learned that the truth was a bit more complicated even for someone like me who grew up with anti-Communism in his bloodstream.

Here are some snapshots of people I met before the fall of the wall whom I will never forget.

One: Christa Luft, was the last person to serve as minister of economics in the East German government. Appointed just after the wall fell, she faced the daunting challenge of holding together a collapsing centrally planned economy. When I interviewed her just before Christmas 1989, I asked her how long East Germany could have preserved Communism if the wall hadn’t collapsed. With remarkable candor she said: “We had at most six months to a year.” The economy, she explained, was so inefficient at the end that if a machine tool broke down in Leipzig there would likely be no spare part available. A factory manager desperate to produce his quota of goods would often pay to have the needed part stolen for him from a factory in another city.

Excited to hear such a realistic explanation of the collectivist system, I then asked how the American CIA had possibly calculated that East Germany had a higher GDP than Ireland did, and indeed that West German per capita GDP was only 32 percent higher than East Germany’s. A clearly exhausted Christa Luft started to offer a rationalization and then gave up. “We lied,” she suddenly burst out. “But it wasn’t entirely our fault. You in the West believed our lies, and even gave us loans and other money based on our lies.” The wildly inaccurate economic statistics of the regime became so much a part of the system that even the ruling Communist Politburo members were not given the most accurate numbers.

Two: Peter Janz, who was the energetic first secretary of the East German Embassy in Washington during the 1980s and the point man for arranging interviews and journalist visas for me. He was always politem and he never engaged in attempts to peddle the more preposterous of Communist spin.

After the wall came down, he naturally wasn’t kept on by the German Foreign Ministry. I visited him a couple of years later after he’d settled down as owner of a video-rental store in Berlin. I asked him when he first realized that he was working for a regime that didn’t serve its people and was built on untruths.

He explained that as the son of Communist Party insiders, he had gone to high school in Moscow and been trained for a career as a top government official. But a school vacation trip he and four fellow East German classmates earned to the Baltic States changed his perspective.

He explained that he and his friends had been taught that Estonia, Latviam and Lithuania had all been liberated by Stalin from Nazi rule during World War II. They were now proud, loyal republics of the Soviet Union. But when he and his friends spoke Russian on the streets, they were met with hostile glares and suspicion by the local population. When they switched to German, they were approached by curious passersby and greeted warmly. “I suddenly realized my world was upside down. Nazis had indeed brutalized the Baltic States, but the Soviets had been at least as bad and stayed far longer,” he told me.

What did he do with this new knowledge, I asked him. He explained patiently that his options were limited: “I could become a dissident and give up hope of university or a career. I could leave my entire family and try to start over elsewhere. Or I could stay on my career path and try not to become too morally compromised and perhaps even do some good around the margins.” To those who would criticize his choice, he had a tart response: “People who’ve never grown up in a dictatorship should ask themselves how easily they would rebel against it and risk its full wrath,” he said. “Many of us have no idea how we would react until we are confronted directly with such choices.”

Three: Monica Stern, who was one of four teenage girls whom a German friend of mine and I encountered in 1984 while touring an East Berlin museum. Their teacher had brought them from a rural area to see their nation’s capital and had given them the afternoon off. My friend and I knew Berlin far better than they did, so we volunteered to be their tour guides.

By dusk it was time for my friend and I to return to the glittering lights of West Berlin. The girls came along to bid us farewell. They had never seen the Berlin Wall, but they sensed it was close. They stopped on a street corner and said, “We really shouldn’t go any farther. We are not Berliners. If we are stopped, the guards will ask us why we are so close to the border.”

As we stood in the growing darkness, a feeling of sadness came over me. I wasn’t rich, but I could go anywhere in the world from that street corner for a few hundred dollars. They could not go another 100 yards. Their world ended at the wall. They were trapped in a human zoo.

To keep the conversation going, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said a beautician, one said a nurse, and one said a teacher. But the oldest and wisest, whose name was Monika, looked up at me and said very slowly: “It doesn’t matter what we become when we grow up. They will always treat us like children.”

That sentence really defined Communism in its waning years. People were rarely taken away to a political prison. Instead, there was an insufferable and widespread paternalism. It weighed down people’s spirits and prevented them from becoming what was the best within them.

We parted almost tearfully, exchanging addresses so we could swap postcards at Christmas. She wrote that her application for university studies had been rejected because of her views.

Five years later, in 1989, Monika turned 19 and the Berlin Wall came down. I watched in New York as East Germans crossed over, and I wondered if Monika and her friends were among them.

At about ten o’clock the next morning, the telephone rang. AT&T, already trying to introduce a consumer culture to the 84 percent of East Germans without a telephone, had set up phone kiosks near the wall. They gave prospective customers the chance to make a call anywhere in the world for free. Monika called me. Her first words were, “John, this is Monika. I am over the wall.”

We talked for a few minutes, and I reminded her of our talk on a street corner in East Berlin. “Well, does this mean you country has grown up, and you are no longer to be treated as children?” I asked. She responded with a laugh. “I think my entire country has graduated from kindergarten to high school overnight.”

Today, Monika is happily married and a successful veterinarian. But after more than a generation during which civics, Cold War history, and Communism were barely taught in American public schools, today’s young people know very little about this era.

A new poll by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation finds that Communism is viewed favorably by more than one in three Millennials (36 percent). Only 57 percent of Generation Z and 62 percent of Millennials believe that China is a Communist country and not a democratic country. And finally, only 57 percent of Millennials (compared with 94 percent of the World War II ‘Silent Generation’), believe that the Declaration of Independence guarantees freedom and equality better than the Communist Manifesto does.

Luckily, many Millennials either don’t understand what collectivism is, or they want “an imaginary, pure, democratic, cuddly socialism,” in the words of Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament. “Even where history has given us laboratory-condition experiments — East and West Germany, and Hong Kong and mainland China — they refuse to infer anything from them, airily dismission each actual instance of socialism as ‘not real socialism.’”

West Berlin’s fight for freedom is now part of history, but here’s hoping that the human-rights story of 2019 — the fight of another isolated “island of freedom” called Hong Kong to protect its institutions from an authoritarian takeover — similarly captures the attention of the world and prompts young people to better comprehend the difference between free and controlled societies.


Does the United States Need Nuclear Weapons?

by Peter Huessy

US-nuclear-missileDoes the United States need nuclear weapons? What role do they play? And if they are valuable, how much should we spend supporting such a nuclear deterrent? In addition, what level of nuclear weapons should we aim to achieve to maintain stability and deterrence? And finally, does the type of nuclear deterrent maintained by the United States bear a relationship to whether nuclear weapons proliferate in the world, especially in Iran and North Korea?

The Center for Strategic and International Studies held a day long conversation on these questions on May 5th. Joe Cirincione, the President of the Ploughshares Fund laid out a four part narrative that the US was (1) maintaining a vastly bloated nuclear deterrent, (2) unnecessary for our security, (3) unaffordable, and (4) in need of at least an immediate unilateral one-third reduction in American nuclear forces to jump start efforts to get to zero nuclear weapons world-wide. Continue reading


Russia’s Leader Is Neither A Realist Nor A Nationalist

To understand Vladimir Putin’s wars, the key is to understand the final two decades of the Soviet Union, not the first two decades of the new Russia.

by Tom Nichols     •     The Federalist

Vladimir-Putin-006Americans have been grasping to find explanations for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s serial aggressions in Europe. We keep searching for bumper stickers we can understand, so we gravitate to simple explanations like “geopolitics” or “nationalism,” not least because such notions promise solutions. (If it’s about geopolitics, cutting a deal with Putin will stop this; if it’s about nationalism, it’ll burn itself out when Putin has recaptured enough ethnic Russians around his borders.)

And, of course, there’s always “realism.” In this month’s Foreign Affairs, John Mearsheimer argues the Russo-Ukraine war is basically the West’s fault. (We expanded NATO, we supported the Maidan protesters, we were generally just mean to Russia, etc.) Continue reading


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