Why a Cool War May Be Worse than a Cold One
The unfolding Sino-American conflict is far less cut and dried than the Cold War was. Minimizing the fallout will require both sides to recognize that, in an interconnected world, efforts to strengthen their own position become self-defeating when they undermine global stability and dynamism.
HONG KONG – In recent years, fears of a new cold war between the United States and China have been proliferating. But the tensions between the two powers would be better described as a “cool war,” characterized not by old-fashioned spheres of interest, proxy wars, and the threat of “mutually assured destruction,” but by an unprecedented combination of wide-ranging competition and deep interconnection.
Even without the threat of nuclear annihilation that marked the Cold War, a “lose-lose” outcome is likely in this cool war – not least because, in a scenario where either the US or China begins to gain an advantage over the other, the loser could well act rashly to bring their opponent down with them. But a win-lose or even win-win outcome is also possible. Whatever happens, the effects will reverberate globally.
The ongoing trade war, which US President Donald Trump initiated in the summer of 2018, offers a straightforward example of cool-war dynamics. Whereas the Soviet Union was a closed economy, China has, over four decades of “reform and opening up,” established itself as one of the world’s top three global supply-chain hubs, along with the US and Germany.