Observations of an ex pat: Cold war line up

We are heading for Cold War Two. Some say we are in it. Either way, it will touch every corner of the globe—as did its predecessor— as the main protagonists’ battle against each other for the hearts, minds, military assets, trade deals, access to resources, political influence and strategic positioning of third countries.

Cold War I was the US v. the Soviet Union. Post- World War Two Europe was the initial cockpit and Western Europe were America’s junior partners. China was the Soviets subordinate for several key years, but the inflated national egos of the two countries and their joint occupancy of the Eurasian land mass led to the inevitable falling out.

Cold War II is different. The focus is now Asia where communist China threatens to replace America as the hegemonic power. Russia is now China’s junior partner and has dropped several places on Washington’s worry list. It is economically stunted but remains a belligerent military giant, which means it should be of greater concern than currently rated by Washington.

The biggest difference between Cold Wars One and Two is that China has succeeded economically far beyond the dreams of the old Soviet Union. This has enabled Beijing to use soft trade power while accumulating cash to build hard military muscle and buy allies around the world.

With a few exceptions, Beijing is not having much luck winning support in Asia. After all, that is the region that they seek to dominate as the Soviet Union sought dominance in Europe. Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia are all solidly in the American camp.  Their only real regional allies are pariah-like North Korea and Russia.

But elsewhere in the world they have gained friends and influence through a combination of investment, trade, loans, grants and infrastructure development.  Africa’s abundant natural resources have been successfully targeted with some $60 billion of investment compared to $16 billion from the US.

In Latin America, the Chinese have stood alongside the Russians in backing Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, a move which has helped keep Trump from intervening in the troubled South American oil giant.  In Cuba, Beijing, has replaced the old Soviet Union as the island’s main economic support. Beijing took the unusual step of writing off a $6 billion debt and is now Havana’s biggest trading partner.

The rest of the Western Hemisphere is in the American camp. But Europe is being lured by Chinese cash and cheap manufactured goods. It is not as compliant as Washington expects or would like. The Greeks have sold Beijing a 51 percent stake in the strategic of Piraeus, thus giving the China’s Belt/Road Initiative a foothold in the Mediterranean.  In 2019 the Chinese market was worth about $200 billion a year to the EU. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has led the way in forging closer links with Beijing, visiting China 12 times in the past 14 years.

The German interest in improved relations with China has been given a push by the erratic behaviour of President Trump—especially his assertions that Germany is ripping-off American taxpayers. Threats about continued support for NATO; support for Brexit,  tariffs on German goods and the withdrawal of 12,000 US troops have combined to encourage a German re-think.

However, the problem of China’s junior partner—the looming Russian bear—plus long-standing NATO links makes it likely that Germany, and the rest of Europe will fall into the American camp, albeit with some hesitation and reservations.  To that end, Britain’s decision to scrap its deal with Huawei and reassess its links with China were a win for Washington. The fact is that if the US failed to add the UK to its Sino phobic team then it had little hope of persuading others to come onside.

Many people blame the Trump Administration for the current precarious state of Sino-American relations. They look forward to a Biden administration easing tensions. The fact is that relations between Beijing and Washington were souring long before Donald Trump entered the White House. He has exacerbated them with his tariffs and rhetoric, but just about the only bipartisan area of agreement in Washington these days is on China. Don’t expect a big change with Biden. Do expect the face-off to continue.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • Our problem is that the planet cannot afford this approach to the relationship between countries.
    It seems that the history of humanity is the history of leaders of countries playing war games. Unless we find a way to follow a different path, we will continue to degrade our planet.

  • richard underhill 1st Aug '20 - 10:06am

    Tom Arms | Sat 1st August 2020 – 8:55 am
    The President of Taiwan is in the news, a democratising force,

  • With the UK beginning to be a laughing stock in some countries it will be harder persuading other countries to join. As said if we continue stripping resources out of the ground to be ‘ top dog’ what sort of planet will they win,?A dust bowl empty of resources?

  • “Bangladesh’s souring relations with India come as China is trying to build a network of allies in South Asia, and Beijing and Dhaka have been increasing cooperation in many sectors.”

  • David Evershed 2nd Aug '20 - 2:15am

    If the string of third world countries in debt to China line up against the USA at the UN, expect the USA to pull out of the UN.

  • Joseph
    Indeed. 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand last year. Of course the tourist industry is devastated by covid-19 at the moment but Thailand awaits their return.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 2nd Aug '20 - 8:06am

    The speed with which the commentariat has embraced the phraseology of ‘Cold War’ suggests we are heading toward very dangerous ground of our own making. Cold War psychology led to the U.S. mantra of either being for or against something which Tom Arms lays out in his piece. The personal demonisation of Xi Jinping is already taking shape and soon voters in Western democracies will be told, as they were with Saddam, Gadaffi and Assad, that once Xi and his Communist Party has gone has gone everything will be fine. The West will need to be a lot smarter with the expansion of China, particularly since the reputation of democracy itself to deliver security and higher standards of living has been shredded through Iraq and the Middle East and North African conflicts. While the US-Soviet conflict may have seemed ‘cold’ from the comfort of our Cotswold villages, it was very hot in Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia. Malaysia, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Angola and so on. Best we drop the parallels and come up with a more accurate way to describe China and the current geopolitical shift.

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '20 - 9:45am

    We in the West have been sleepwalking into this potential disaster for decades – and I don’t just mean COVID-19. The kind of ‘China ‘flu’ I am referring to here is our willingness to allow the Chinese such massive inroads into our manufacturing capability. Add to that all the precious metal sites they have ‘acquired’ and all the businesses they have bought up to ‘acquire’ intellectual property rightS – what now the steelworks in Scunthorpe? – plus real estate in the USA and elsewhere and you can see that we are not in a very strong position as the USA continues to turn in on itself.

    You might want to add Western Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy to the list of our being in hock to what are basically authoritarian regimes with the ability not only to undermine our economies but also our democratic process.

    As Mr Spock might have said; “This IS Cold War, Jim; but nit as we know it”. You see, it’s nit like before, because it’s clearly a game now under capitalist rules. So, what do we do? First pray that Trump loses in November and goes quietly. Secondly, that the à Democrats take the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives. Then we need to find a more friendly buyer for the Scunthorpe Steel Works – why not nationalise them? – and rethink our nuclear energy policy. How about paying a bit more for our clothes and electrical goods and having more of them made here? Are you listening, Sir James?

    If the Chinese regime is intent on flexing its military muscles, we had better make sure that countries like Germany follow the example of ourselves and the French in paying their full whack. If democracy is worth anything any more, surely it’s worth defending?

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '20 - 10:20am

    Sorry about the invasion of ‘nits’ in my last piece. Like ‘tge’, having rather large fingers and a small iPad keyboard and an inability to check my stuff properly means that I am a poor advert for the teaching service. Unless I smarten up, it will clearly NOT be THE last time I make this mistake. Sorry to be letting us ex teachers down, David Raw!
    @Joe Bourke
    Sorry I can’t agree with your final paragraph. I applaud the nobility of your sentiments. It’s quite nice to find out what you really think and not to just have a load of quotes or links. I just wonder what would have happened had we adopted your stance vis à vis the Soviet Union. They do say, however, that the meek “shall inherit the earth” – but hopefully not just yet!

  • @ John Marriott “The kind of ‘China ‘flu’ I am referring to here is our willingness to allow the Chinese such massive inroads into our manufacturing capability”.

    A correct diagnosis, John, illustrated by that Dyson person – (sorry, Sir James Dyson OM CBE) who’s offshore net worth is 6.5 billion dollars (of expensive ventilators fame that don’t work), and such as the Dragons of TV ‘s Dragons Den who are happy to ‘invest” in bright ideas if they can take advantage of cheap labour in the Far East.

    Many of them, of course, are Tory donors…. and no doubt Sir Danny in his new role will be ‘happy to help’.

    But how do you suppose you can stop it though ?

    I certainly agree about re-nationalising the steel works (and the railways) …. but what about the care homes and the sweat shops in Leicester etc.,? Whatever you do I can imagine squeals of protest from the Orange Tendency who believe in classical liberal economics. I’d just let them scream. Look at the stats I quoted for the Saddleworth by-election and the descending level of Lib Dem so called ‘support’.

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '20 - 11:17am

    @David Raw
    You and I are in danger of setting up a Bourke/Martin loop. However I’ll have one last go in case I get the ‘flood warning’ from the LDV computer. In case I do, I started this at 11.05am.

    What do we do? Firstly we stop trying to buy cheap clothes, or cheap anything for that matter – not easy given the poverty you keep reminding us of. Secondly, as you say, it’s about time some of our so called ‘entrepreneurs’ showed a bit more patriotism and stopped shipping their production lines abroad, where ‘costs’ (ie wages) are much lower. The problem is we all like a bargain (plus our two weeks in the sun), don’t we? The trouble is, most people just do not out two and two together. They just do not understand cause and effect. Why expect them to accept “blood, tears, toil and sweat” in peacetime. But we aren’t at peace, are we, what with massive discrepancies in wealth, health, employment prospects, not forgetting a certain pandemic, together with a regime that has harnessed capitalism to achieve its authoritarian aims? Time to wake up and smell the coffee, even if it’s being brought to you from Brazil via a tax dodging US organisation?

  • “You and I are in danger of setting up a Bourke/Martin loop”.

    Unlike Joseph, I don’t support Brentford – although I’ll give him credit for loyalty to a little club.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Aug '20 - 12:08pm

    @ John Marriott,

    “Firstly we stop trying to buy cheap clothes, or cheap anything for that matter – not easy given the poverty you keep reminding us of.”

    You know as well as I do that this is never going to happen. So what else can we do?

    How about looking at the problem, if it is a problem, in the right way? If I offer to mow your lawn for £10 when everyone else is quoting £20 or more, who is getting the better deal? Yes you have to pay me £10 but at the same time you have another £10 to spend on something else.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Aug '20 - 12:37pm

    Geopolitics is like taxes and death, a part of life. That is why we must strengthen our multinational institutions and make them fit for the modern age. As long as it remains posturing the rest of the world can watch with interest. We cannot afford to have any major confrontation in these uncertain times and the tone of this piece does not help.

  • Cheap products are not going to stop. Companies are moving from China to other low cost locations.

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '20 - 3:48pm

    @Peter Martin
    Your example is just what is wrong. How you change human behaviour in a so called ‘free’ society is the $64,000 question. Actually I usually mow my own lawn. It’s not very big. However, when I wanted my cutters clearing, after a few futile enquiries with local tradespeople, I called in an expert. It wasn’t cheap but the job done was fantastic! You clearly pay for what you get.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Aug '20 - 4:28pm

    @ John Marriott,

    “You clearly pay for what you get.”

    That’s not always true. For example, there are some Chilean and Argentinian wines which are much better value for money than those from France and Germany. That’s no to say that the Europeans don’t make good wine too, but not at the same price.

    Look, you’re supposed to be a Liberal. I shouldn’t have to explain the benefits of Free Trade, or at least as free as it might be possible to be, to you.

    There is often a mistaken tendency to equate neoliberalism with globalism. It’s possible to have the latter without the former. It’s even essential to avoid conflicts of the type everyone would like to avoid breaking out.

    In this case I would agree with Joe Bourke’s last comment. And it’s not very often I can say that!

  • John Marriott 2nd Aug '20 - 5:56pm

    @Peter Martin
    Me, a liberal? I bet there are a few LDV contributors, who might dispute that. I suppose you are a kind of socialist; but one currently without a home. So, if you can’t educate us on LDV, why not find a vehicle to tell your fellow Labourites where they have been going wrong and leave us poor ‘liberals’ to our misery?

  • richard underhill 2nd Aug '20 - 11:52pm

    John Marriott 2nd Aug ’20 – 11:17am
    No, we are staying in the UK and avoiding skin cancer.

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