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The Cold War that Wasn't

The US is an exhausted power, and it is now being challenged by a rising one. To ensure that this well-known geopolitical dynamic does not end in war, the US must abandon jingoistic rhetoric and replace megaphone diplomacy with wise and creative statesmanship.

TEL AVIV – US President Joe Biden has repeatedly cast his country’s rivalry with China as a battle between democracy and autocracy, an ideological clash reminiscent of the Cold War. This narrative is inaccurate – the United States and China are locked in a competition for strategic dominance – and all but precludes resolution. Whereas demands related to tangible assets and security concerns can be accommodated, ideological struggles typically end one way: with the unconditional defeat of one of the parties.

The US should not be attempting to “defeat” China, as it did the Soviet Union, because, first and foremost, China is not on a quest to spread “socialism with Chinese characteristics” around the world. When Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in 2017 that “war without the smoke of gunpowder in the ideological domain is ubiquitous, and the struggle without armament in the political sphere has never stopped,” he was mainly demanding that outsiders respect China’s institutions and cultural traditions.

This partly reflects Chinese nationalism, fed by historical narratives, especially the memory of the “century of humiliation” (1839-1949), during which China faced interventions and subjugation by Western powers and Japan. But it is also pragmatic: The Communist Party of China recognizes that some domestic trends could destabilize the country and eventually even undermine the CPC’s rule.

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