Everyone’s Noticed The Oncoming US/China Cold War

via Ian Welsh:

Horowitz calls it a tech cold war, but it is unlikely to stay that way.

Cutting Huawei off from all non-open source Google services, including the play store, and not allowing it to buy US components is a huge blow to Huawei.

Huawei is ahead in 5G, and American allies have been reluctant to ban it, but the US can do great damage to China’s tech industry, because in many other ways it is still far behind America’s. (Horwitz is good on this.)

China has ways of retaliating. The most potent is to embargo rare earths. China did this once before and the WTO declared it illegal, but that won’t necessarily stop the Chinese from doing it again. The WTO, which is also under attack by the Trump administration, may not have the teeth necessary to stop the Chinese, especially as the US is scarcely innocent in the escalation of tariffs.

I’ve been on the Huawei situation for months, because I believed it was the first step in dangerous escalation between the current hegemonic power, and the challenging power.

The best book on the subject is Thucydides Trap, by Graham Allison. Allison also wrote a Foreign affairs article on Thucydides Trap. The summary is that in the past 500 years there have been 16 similar challenges. Twelve of them led to war.

America was a particularly aggressive rising power: seizing huge amounts of Mexico, grabbing the Alaskan panhandle under threat of war with Great Britain (who couldn’t afford to move their forces away from the Germans, and so let Teddy Roosevelt, an aggressive asshole in foreign affairs, take it.)

And of course, America terrorized South and Central America, as it still does, while claiming foreign naval forces had no right to be in the Americas (an echo to China’s expansion in the South China Sea most Americans refuse to acknowledge.)

Now that America is the hegemonic power they want to stay the hegemonic power.

The current international order was mostly created when China was weak, recovering from arguably the worst position it had been in for 2,500 years.

The Chinese do not accept the current international order; created by America, with European help, after WWII as legitimate, because it was created almost entirely without their input when they were weak. Indeed, a clear eyed realpolitik view is that America enforced the order because they were massively strong, then further enforced it after the collapse of the USSR.

Put aside all the bullshit, the Pax Americana, like all Pax’s comes out American force: the barrel of a lot of guns, and the boom of a lot of nukes.

So China is moving to retake what it regards as its rightful place in the world: the greatest nation in the world. America is doing what all hegemonic powers do when an upstart rises: resisting.

This is not a temporary thing and it is not just a result of Trump. There are real differences, and the pivot to China as the big enemy began under Obama, not Trump. Ironically, the Trans Pacific Partnership (which Trump refused to ratify) was an effort to contain China.

Trump’s addition is a preference for unilateralism. Under mulitalternalism the Americans had found it harder and harder to get their way, as the failure of the Doha round of WTO negotiations showed.

One-on-one America is always greater than anyone else. It always has the advantage. Trump is not wrong about that. So he is using that might to “re-negotiate” with other nations, including China.

Meanwhile the Chinese have been forming their Belt and Road system, which is an alliance and trade organization substitute, meant to form deals 1:1 with other countries, and to create trade links, especially a land-route across Asian to Europe,  which will allow China to bypass America’s stranglehold on naval power, and especially on the Straits of Malacca.

And so on.

Let’s cut to the chase. There will be many tactical and strategic moves, but China is about as economically powerful now as the US. They are currently, overall, a middle income country, but many cities are high income.

Since China has 3x the population of the US, if they can move their population to high income, they will have an economy about 3x the size of the Americans.

They will win.

America should think about that carefully, because if they oppose the Chinese at every point, when China becomes the hegemonic power, America may find themselves treated badly. The Chinese won’t feel badly about it, at all, given how they feel about how  China was treated when it was weak by Europeans and Americans.

The Chinese, meanwhile, should remember that their rise to hegemonic power isn’t certain, and that if it requires great power war in a world with nuclear weapons, that may go very badly for everyone involved.

Neither side, as an aside, are good guys. The Chinese are, domestically, creating a rather nasty authoritarian surveillance state. America domestically is a shit show for many, and it has been far more likely to go to war with other countries than the Chinese have.

In fact, while Chinese actions in the South China Sea are nasty, they are mild by rising hegemonic power standards, and certainly, so far, less nasty than how the US acted when it was the rising power.

A new cold war, with the world dividing into two blocs, would be shitty. A hot war would be worse.

But I’m not at all sure “cooler heads” will prevail. The simple fact is that Americans think they are the indispensable nation, and good people, and therefore have the right to rule the world. Meanwhile the Chinese nurse their own powerful sense of superiority, added to a massive feeling of grievance and ill-use. Nor can the Chinese Communist party allow economic growth to falter without danger to their own power and legitimacy. If it does, be sure they will focus the anger at foreign enemies.

I’m not sure there’s much point being worked up by all this, mind you. Rising and falling hegemonic powers act like this, that’s just how it is. Most of us don’t have enough power to affect these events. Just be aware of them, and if you have some power, perhaps put your finger on the scale that at least avoids hot war.