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Student Essay: Washington and Beijing, War Under New Term

It has been thirty years since the Cold War between the United States of America (US) and the Soviet Union (USSR) took place, a bipolar conflict by mutation of older conflicts from the second world war. Analysts have anticipated that the heightened tensions, trade war, and technological and scientific competition set a breeding ground for another cold war. This essay will analyze if Cold War 2.0 is brewing in the international theater with the US on one side and China on the other. 

There are two primary components of the Cold War: the ideological competition, which entails the polarized notions of liberal democracy and communism, and the rivalry of military might. Cold War occurred when Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan collapsed, leaving a power vacuum filled quickly by the US and USSR and building a bloc to contain and counter one another. 

 Naing Min Khant (Parami Modular Student)

The current Cold War-like situation between the US and China has a distinct factor: the absence of the ideological competition element. President Joe Biden's description of the existing rivalry between the two global powers can be phrased as a competition between democracy and autocracy. The Washington two-day summit on democracy could be construed as Washington's attempt to add an ideological substance to the US-China competition.

However, this can be proved that Beijing repeatedly claims that its one-party authoritarianism is a democracy that is better than Washington. Beijing's top plan is to expand its economic powerhouse through the Belt and Road Initiative with a strong commitment. It does not have a strategic interest in meddling with the ideological competition with Washington.  

Another critical aspect of the Cold War is the polarization with two competing blocs on each end: the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc. There were two defense cooperations: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), to contain and counter threats imposed by one another. In the current global theater, there are many regional organizations with different areas of cooperation without leaning towards any end of the polarized spectrum. 

Moreover, many countries, especially the ASEAN states, have emerged from the traumatic experience of proxy wars and collateral damage from the Cold War. Most countries thus are reluctant to side with either Washington or Beijing. They would rather assert their own autonomy and sovereignty. During the 13th South China Sea International Conference, Dr. Cooper mentioned that the world is increasingly becoming multipolar rather than the classic bipolar stance. Thus, the Cold War scenario with two distinct entities with a superpower on each end is unlikely.  

Therefore, the term "Cold War" is inappropriate to describe the strategic competition between Washington and Beijing. Hence, a new war term will be needed to conceptualize the rivalry between Washington and Beijing. 

  1. Ferguson, Niall. (2019, December 2). The New Cold War? It's With China, and It Has Already Begun, The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/02/opinion/china-cold-war.html
  2. Blakemore, Erin. (2019, March 22). What was the Cold War? National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/cold-war
  3. Bishara, Marwan. (2021, November 18). China's rise and America's decline spell conflict, Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/11/18/the-chinese-miracle-and-the-american-debacle
  4. U.S. Department of State. (2021). The Summit for Democracy. https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy/
  5. Gan, Nectar., & George, Steve. (2021, December 8). China claims its authoritarian one-party system is a democracy -- and one that works better than the U.S.U.S., CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/12/08/china/china-us-democracy-summit-mic-intl-hnk/index.html
  6. Herring, George C., (2014, October). The Cold War and Vietnam. OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 18, No. 5, 18-21.
  7. Dr. Zack Cooper. (2021, November 18). DAV's 13th South China Sea Conference - Day 1 - Session 2. Video posted to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8dqhb4K_Hk&t=1746s

This essay is written by Naing Min Khant, a modular student from "ASEAN and Regional Security Dynamics" taught by instructor Phuong H Vu. He is second year (honors) student at the University of Yangon with a political science specialization. He has been working as a researcher at the Myanmar Youth for Peace Development (MYPD) to promote youth awareness of the peace and conflict issues in Myanmar since January 2021. 

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