Immediately after World War II, Joseph Stalin delivered a speech at the Bolshoi Theatre on February 9, 1946 – the eve of the symbolic 1946 Supreme Soviet election. The speech did not discuss foreign policy but instead made pledges to expand communism around the world. George Kennan, a US diplomat at the time, sent an 8000-word telegram, formally identified by the State Department number 511, but it was informally called the “long telegram” due to its size.
In the 8000-word message, Kennan warned that Soviet and American leaders had a fundamental difference in worldview. He cautioned that the Soviets were not satisfied with peaceful coexistence and would try to expand their global influence. He also advised on the postwar Soviet Union and how the US should shape its foreign policy in response to its conduct in Europe. This would lead to the United States responding, causing countries to divide into rival competing blocs. Kennan’s message was the first to warn of an emerging form of worldwide rivalry that was political, academic, and philosophical, while also economic or strategic.
It took two more years before Kennan’s prediction came to fruition. In 1948, the Soviet Union announced a blockade of West Berlin, which was the last Allied-controlled island in its domain. Western democracies banded together for the following twelve months to supply airlift relief to the encircled metropolis.
Although the Soviets eventually backed down, twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington DC. This event led to the birth of the NATO alliance. Along with this event, the creation of Soviet satellite regimes in Eastern Europe established a world split that would persist for the remainder of the twentieth century.
In a world where China has emerged as a new foe, It is now experiencing a similar moment of great power division.
With the disintegration of the Communist bloc, the bipolar world order gave way to unipolarity, with the United States emerging as the sole superpower.
The following two decades marked an expansion of markets and democratization across the majority of the developing globe, including formerly Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. As democratization advanced, market capitalism took over as the dominant theory of economic expansion and growth. These trends persisted despite significant instability and brief disputes in numerous regions of the world.
As the Western world grapples with domestic challenges, China has been quick to fill the void, promoting its own values and norms as an alternative to the Western model.
Communism remains vibrant and flourishing in China, albeit with capitalist elements. However, the inbuilt contradictions of political totalitarianism and market capitalism leave China both robust and fragile.
No other contemporary state has been able to maintain a centralized political grip, subverting the populace’s freedoms and rights, while delivering an economy that raises living standards. The Chinese Communist Party manages and stimulates a capitalist economy similar to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan’s 1960s-1980s strategy. The difference is that those three Asian nations permanently adopted Western-style democracies, being staunch US allies, unlike China.
This Century’s Cold War is basically the same as the previous one: it is simply an extension of the previous century’s war with a new texture. The containment strategy was developed to confine a subversive Moscow within a limited geographical sphere of influence. The hope was that during this time, the seeds of domestic decay in the Soviet Union would either lead to its gradual decline or its break up. In the last Cold War, the Soviet Union fought direct proxy battles with the US in the third world but lost due to its inability to keep up with the more rapid Western-centric capitalist growth. The Soviets were defeated economically rather than militarily.
Unlike the Soviet Union, China is avoiding direct military conflict with the US amid significant ammunition buildup. Instead, China is taking an aggressive approach through trade protectionism and technological innovation. This confrontation between the old West and the new and old East (China and Russia) could potentially be resolved through compromise, granting China a role that reflects its global influence and pride, and allowing Russia to retain its imperial dignity and security guarantees against an expansionist European Union and NATO.
Both China and Russia are likely to feel resentful if this compromise is ignored and concealed. The Soviet Union lost without a real fight, but the Chinese are likely to put up a fight, potentially with Russia at their side, because they will not accept losing under any circumstances.
China, unlike the Soviet Union, is not just a military power. It has a massive consumer market and it is the world’s top trading nation. It will certainly try to leverage its wealth and gain influence and shape the global order. China is the largest economic partner of more than 120 countries The Chinese Communist Party’s administration has demonstrated a willingness to utilize trade as a weapon. Countries that have met with the Dalai Lama, the head of the exiled Tibetan administration, have been penalized by Beijing. After the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010, Beijing boycotted Norwegian products for six years.
In 2016, when Seoul allowed the U.S. to install Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile batteries in South Korea, Chinese authorities put tremendous pressure on Korean companies operating in China and stopped tourists from visiting the country.
China represents a true peer competitor to the United States, making it more difficult to manage than the Soviet Union. Those who reject a Cold War framework worry that Americans may be misled into believing that victory can be achieved using the old playbook. And Unlike the last Cold War, China and USA are economically much more integrated and interdependent. They have deep financial and institutional ties and they need to cooperate on many global issues.
The US-China power struggle is predominantly taking place in the Indo-Pacific region, which has become a major theater for their competition.
The competition between the US and China in the Western Pacific island chains will continue to be an unavoidable aspect of their relationship. The South Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, which China considers to be beyond its essential anti-access/area-denial range, will remain less important.
Containment Strategies for China
The long-standing American tactic of limiting China’s influence is not a recent development. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea in the north of the region, and moving southward through Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Singapore, control access to the Pacific Ocean.
China is already in a land and sea conflict with India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, and Brunei in the region. Ironically, China is also their largest trading partner, except for Japan, India, and Singapore.
The Indo pacific region supports more than 8.1 million jobs in the US and is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in this area, with commerce within the region totaling over $1.9 trillion (US Department of State 2019). It has a strong stake in keeping the region’s water channels for communication and trade open. According to Rosenblum (2018), the US views itself as a resident Indo-Pacific power with a very long maritime border that stretches from its coast to the Indian Ocean.
It is also home to the Pacific Fleet and important alliance partners, including important non-NATO friends. Guam in the Western Pacific, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Denver in Australia are just a few of its significant territorial holdings and outposts in the region.
Activities in the marine and internet domains are the key issues for Southeast Asia in terms of providing open access to shared domains. The Malacca, Lombok, and Sunda Straits are Southeast Asia’s three primary maritime chokepoints, providing access to the SCS as well as being a major transit route for American and regional trade.
Making ensuring that these chokepoints continue to be unrestricted and open is a general U.S. objective for the area. The Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Malaysia are the nations that border the maritime chokepoints, therefore collaborating with them would be a priority for the United States in order to achieve this.
China’s aggressive policies and expansionist goal simultaneously threaten US hegemony and Indian interests, turning the Indo-US convergence into an anti-China movement.
The US has frequently emphasized the necessity for China to abide by a rules-based system, particularly by upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), since it views China’s ascent and behavior as a source of serious instability. India and the US backed the UNCLOS Arbitration Tribunal Award in July 2016 that invalidated China’s Nine-Dash Lane claims.
The Indo-Pacific Strategy Report-2019 and the 2015 US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region categorically postulate China’s revisionist agenda to create a world hostile to US values and the use of coercive economics and military modernization to carry it out.
By deploying forces and undertaking regular freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, the US challenges Chinese naval might. According to a report by the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, a Chinese think tank, the US has sent two-thirds of its Marine Corps, 60% of its Army, and 55% of its Navy ships to the Indo-Pacific Command.
China is seen by regional nations as having greater economic clout and being prepared to use it to balance off American military might. The majority of Southeast Asian nations prioritize domestic economic growth over foreign security concerns and are more worried about Chinese economic influence than a military danger from China.
ASEAN nations place a strong emphasis on striking a balance between economic and security objectives; as a result, some have been wary of expanding their military cooperation with the US. On the other hand, there is little proof that Southeast Asian nations consider American military strength to be a check on Chinese economic dominance. Regional nations have shared interests with the United States, but China has more economic resources than the United States to accomplish its goals, including coercive power (“sticks”) and incentives (“carrots”).
Although there are growing regional worries that the United States may be prepared to adopt more coercive economic measures, the United States mostly depends on common interests and incentives to persuade friends and partners to cooperate with it. There is now an unbalanced playing field, and the regional nations believe they stand to lose more if they do not cooperate with China. The US should create more focused strategies to fight Chinese economic influence. To fight Chinese economic influence, the US should refrain from deploying DoD military power.