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‘We’re in Cold War 2 – China is the Soviet Union’s heir. India under PM Modi is very close to the USA’

Author: Srijana Mitra Das
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 28, 2020
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/we-are-in-cold-war-2-now-and-china-is-the-heir-of-soviet-union/articleshow/78355934.cms

Niall Ferguson is Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. Author of best-selling books like Empire, Civilization, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist and The Square and the Tower, Ferguson’s new book, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, will be published in May 2021. A renowned historian and authority on geopolitics, Ferguson spoke with Srijana Mitra Das about China, India-USA, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin – and Cold War 2:

Q. You coined the term ‘Chimerica’ describing the US-China bond – is Chimerica now over?

A. Chimerica is over. It began dying in the 2008 financial crisis. By 2015, it was dead – with Donald Trump’s election, its funeral began. We are in a very different world to 2007 when I first used the term ‘Chimerica’. We are now in Cold War 2 and the United States has woken up to the threat China poses. The Chinese also made their move too soon, before they were ready. Now, they find themselves increasingly isolated the world over.

Further, India under Narendra Modi is closer to the United States than it has been at any time in modern history. China made a fundamental mistake under Xi Jinping, moving to this confrontational strategy too early.

Q. So, you’re not convinced by Xi Jinping’s pacifying UNGA speech?

A. No. I think China has revealed itself to be the heir of the Soviet Union. It’s an ideological power and a totalitarian regime, which can hush up a pandemic and incarcerate Uighurs. It’s very far from the kind of state you’d like to see as the dominant power in the world.

Xi Jinping says he is committed to avoiding a Cold War – he’s also said that China was committed to becoming carbon neutral in a few decades. Yet, China has built more coal-burning power stations this year than since 2016. Xi Jinping also said at Davos earlier that China was committed to free trade and the liberal international order. But, in reality, that’s not how China operates. So, when Xi Jinping gives a speech, one has the right to be sceptical.

China has been pursuing an aggressive program to establish itself as Asia’s dominant power – Cold War 2 originates there. And it’s started under Xi Jinping.

Q. What are Cold War 2’s crucial implications for the world?

A. It has a fundamental economic implication – supply chains for a variety of goods can’t run through China as they did earlier. That means a big shift in the way the Asian economy operates – which could be to India’s advantage. If India can seize the opportunity, an American company would rather be doing business in India than China.

Many countries will also have to choose – we’re seeing this realisation, for instance, in Australia. Whether it’s 5G or national security, if you’re serious about democracy, the rule of law and free speech, you can’t choose China.

India was non-aligned in the first Cold War. But it will not be so in the second Cold War. It sees much more clearly now that China poses a very considerable threat.

Q. How do you analyse China’s militarism in the Ladakh region?

A. China’s foreign ministry and military have elements that would like to take a harder, more confrontational line towards China’s neighbours and the United States. I see them flexing their muscles this year.

The goal in Ladakh seems to be to send a warning signal – China is trying to communicate to India that it is a mistake for India to align with the United States, and it would be better off accepting Chinese dominance in Asia. It’s trying the same with Taiwan. China tries to intimidate its neighbours to accept its dominance – but this strategy is self-defeating. China’s so-called ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy has largely backfired. It’s alienated even countries that were earlier quite sympathetic, like Germany and the UK. China’s aggressive approach is creating an isolation China should be most worried about.

Q. You’ve argued earlier US engagement with China halted its closeness to the erstwhile Soviet Union. Today, are China and Russia close?

A. They are closer than ever before historically. There’s been a reversal of Henry Kissinger’s principle that the US should always be closer to China and Russia than they are to one another. Now, they are much closer to one another than they are to the United States. There has never been a situation in history when the Russia-China relationship has been so close, considering how hostile they were to each other through the first Cold War. Without realising it, the US has allowed a grand alliance to form in Eurasia between Moscow and Beijing.

This relationship has its downsides for Vladimir Putin though, who has to accept Chinese dominance in central Asia, which used to be Russia’s backyard. But Putin is so engaged in Syria and Ukraine that he accepts this. However, I don’t think this relationship will last indefinitely – it’s a marriage of convenience, rather than love.

Q. You’ve argued that Donald Trump was voted in by those displeased by Chimerica – is his re-election, particularly with the impact of Covid-19, likely? Would you vote for him?

A. I have a great many reservations about Donald Trump, and I do find myself struggling with the idea of voting for him. The President has made so many mistakes, I’d be hard-pressed to vote for him now. But, when I look at the deeply unimpressive alternative of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I struggle to imaging voting for them! I think many Americans feel the same way, looking at the choice and thinking, is that the best we can come up with? I haven’t decided yet.

Donald Trump has badly mismanaged the Covid-19 situation. He’s also said some extraordinarily reckless things, especially about this upcoming election. But the best you can say for Donald Trump is that he changed the direction of US policy on China – that needed to be done.

However, even if Joe Biden wins, I don’t think US policy on China will change. The US will stand up to China – and start building new alliances.

Q. Speaking of America’s internal dynamics, how you view the Black Lives Matter movement?

A. It’s quite a revolutionary movement, the heir of radical movements like the Black Panthers. Interestingly, even with Covid-19, and a sense of national crisis, Black Lives Matter gained much greater support from white Americans now than in previous years, both on the issues of police violence against African-Americans and racial imbalances and prejudice. In the middle of a pandemic, you had the biggest protest movement in modern American history, in most major cities, with the protestors mostly being white.

The protests often turned violent though and most black Americans did not support this. So, it’s a curious phenomenon – you have this upsurge of white American guilt about race. But little of what Black Lives Matter is doing will really help African-Americans. Calls to defund the police, for instance, increased violent crimes and the homicide rate is up in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. For someone who cares about social justice and repudiates the remnants of racism, I don’t think Black Lives Matter is really helping the average black American. If anything, it’s making matters worse. This is the law of unintended consequences at work.

But I don’t think America’s problems are impossible to solve within its Constitutional framework. The situation may seem chaotic to foreign observers. Yet, I think the United States has tremendous healing capabilities. It will probably come out of such crises in better shape.


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