A new cold war with China is coming and it will be just as dangerous, expensive and pointless as the last one.
The difference will be how much more New Zealand is involved.
Steering an independent course in these dangerous seas will be very difficult: our Five Eyes security partners will want us to jump one way, our largest economic partner the other.
This fine line was visible this week when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the China Business Summit in Auckland. New Zealand has “different perspectives on some issues”, said Ardern – to which China’s New Zealand ambassador Wu Xi replied:
Pursuing a zero-sum game and portraying others as adversaries or enemies will lead to nowhere and will only harm its own interests.
The latest flashpoint is China’s decision to pass a new security law for Hong Kong. The New Zealand government has ordered a review of all policy settings, despite Foreign Minister Winston Peters having already criticised the law and being told by Beijing to stop interfering in Hong Kong’s and China’s internal affairs.
But New Zealand is right to be concerned about the new law. Designed to combat political dissidence, it covers serious but ill-defined crimes and imposes heavy penalties through opaque justice systems.
It also breaches the spirit of the 1997 Basic Law, which established the principles for the British handover to China.
Some might argue it’s a price worth paying if it brings stability and prosperity back to Hong Kong. After all, some of the key 1997 promises were never implemented, and China has quite properly taken the initiative.
Moreover, the Basic Law was going to lapse in 2047. What is happening now was going to happen anyway, just sooner than planned.
The new law may be repugnant to those who believe civil liberties enjoyed in Western democracies should be universal. But it is not unique within communist China, where social and economic progress has been achieved at a price of minimal dissent.
Self-interest might have had other powers turning a blind eye in the past. But the new geopolitics have seen the security law become a line in the sand.
America is ready to impose sanctions on China over Hong Kong and Uyghur human rights. Australia is increasing its military spending by 40% over the next ten years, as part of a more assertive approach to China with less reliance on the US.
Following India, US President Donald Trump is pressing for a ban on the popular Chinese social media app TikTok due to security concerns.
Amid all this, New Zealand is increasingly out of step. Our criticism of the new security law was clear, but it wasn’t coordinated with the Five Eyes partners, nor did it employ the kind of language that has seen Hong Kong described as a “bastion of freedom”.
New Zealand has also announced it won’t follow Britain’s ban on Huawei and has avoided discussions about military build-ups or sanctions.
This is wise. There is no military solution to this problem and our economic relationship with China only complicates matters.
China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner in goods and second-largest overall including trade in services. Since the ground-breaking 2008 Free Trade Agreement, two-way trade has increased to NZ$30.6 billion per year, more than half of that in New Zealand’s favour.
In an ideal world, these problems would be resolved calmly through a rule-based order of law or arbitration.
Unfortunately, the chances of China consenting to a third party resolving any dispute over what it sees as its sovereign rights are near zero. When such a resolution was attempted over its island building project in the South China Sea, China put the unfavourable ruling in the bin.
The question, therefore, is how New Zealand positions itself in the new cold war if all sides are angry and there is no clear middle ground. The announced policy review offers the best way forward.
The review needs to consider the tone and independence of our foreign policy voice. It should ensure our trade relations comply with the human rights standards we profess to value. And it should require free trade never comes at the expense of free speech.
Of course, we will have to measure the costs and benefits of elevating human rights goals in our foreign policy. If countries we disagree with can’t change, we need to articulate what our bottom line is.
Most critically of all, we must now learn to navigate for ourselves in what will be the most difficult foreign policy challenge the next government will face.
Because whether we like it or not, we are sailing into a new cold war.
In September 2005, before an audience of some of the most powerful business figures in the United States, then US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick unveiled his “responsible stakeholder” formula for China’s global engagement.
China is big and growing… For the United States and the world the essential question is how will China use its influence… We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.
This is how the China as a “responsible stakeholder” template for the West’s conduct of relations with an emerging power was born. It was not a superpower at that stage, but a rising one.
Later in that same speech, Zoellick added:
Many Americans worry that the Chinese dragon will prove to be a fire breather. There is a cauldron of anxiety about China.
If there was a “cauldron of anxiety” then, it is “cauldron of paranoia” now as the US slips towards a new Cold War.
It’s not there yet, but the possibility of a permafrost can’t be discounted. This would include a decoupling of the US and Chinese economies and a deepening technology war in which competing technologies would seek to get the upper hand inside and outside cyberspace. It would also include an all-out arms race.
Washington’s campaign to deprive China’s telecommunications giant Huawei from access to US-designed microchips for its artificial intelligence processors, mobile phones and networking capabilities is aimed squarely at denying the Chinese company a technological edge.
The Huawei decision is one of several designed to squeeze Chinese access to US technology, and in the process disrupt global supply chains.
China regards the US campaign against Huawei as highly provocative, if not war by another means.
These are sobering moments as the world contemplates getting dragged into a “cauldron” of superpower tension not witnessed since the 1950s.
Middle-sized players like Australia risk getting trampled. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is discovering to the cost of his country’s agriculture and mining sectors that it is better to stay out of the way of bull elephants in a global jungle. His ill-advised solo intervention in calls for an independent inquiry into a pandemic has backfired as China picks off vulnerable Australian exports for reprisals.
An American “cauldron of anxiety” has spilled over.
I was in that New York City hotel ballroom for the Zoellick speech as North American correspondent for The Australian Financial Review. I had no doubt it was a significant moment in America’s attempts to address an emerging challenge from an economically resurgent China, but this challenge needed to be kept in proportion.
Bear in mind China’s president at the time was the cautious bureaucrat, Hu Jintao. The country had not yet left behind paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s advice to colleagues that when it came to demonstrating China’s newfound might, it was better to “hide your capabilities, bide your time”.
It was seven years before the “China first” Xi Jinping became China’s most powerful leader since Deng, and possibly since Mao Zedong himself.
Zoellick’s speech was delivered more than a decade before a New York property developer named Donald Trump became an “America first” president ill-equipped to deal with complexities involved in managing a relationship with a surging China.
Trump’s mixture of bombast, bellicosity, prejudice, impulsiveness, and apparent lack of a sense of history makes him particularly ill-suited to cope with the world’s biggest foreign policy challenge since the second world war.
That includes the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. That conflict could be managed by a policy of containment and mutually assured destruction.
At a time when the western alliance cries out for leadership, America is consumed, even torn apart, by internal divisions. Those divisions are likely to be rubbed raw in this year’s presidential election, in which China will be the focus of the sort of fearmongering that characterised American internal debates about the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
Trump’s contribution to that debate in the midst of a pandemic may not be surprising given his intemperate use of language generally, but in the circumstances it was shocking nevertheless.
This is what he tweeted on May 20:
Let that sink in. The latest occupant of the Oval Office, successor to some of the great figures of world history, has accused China of being responsible for “mass worldwide killing”.
China’s mishandling of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic deserve investigation and censure, but Trump himself bears responsibility for his own “incompetence” and that of his administration in managing America’s response to the crisis.
In its early stages he declared the virus would simply vanish. He used the word “hoax”, allegedly cooked up by his political enemies, to dismiss the contagion. As a consequence valuable time was lost in responding.
America now has the worst record globally in dealing with the pandemic. Things being equal this will constitute a significant drag on Trump’s re-election prospects, hence his flailing about in search for scapegoats.
Leaving aside American domestic politics – the Democrats will not want to be accused of being soft on China in a presidential election cycle – the much bigger question is the extent to which the pandemic will disrupt, even overturn, a globalising world.
The journal Foreign Policy has made a useful contribution to the debate in its latest issue – The Great Decoupling – in which it seeks to frame what is happening now historically. History is not kind to a process in which states decouple, pull up the drawbridges, roll back trade and investment ties and, in the United Kingdom’s case, depart a trading bloc that had served it well.
America is far from the only nation state succumbing to the forces of nationalism and populism. It is a worrying trend for open-market trading countries like Australia, dependent on increasing economic integration.
This is how Foreign Policy framed issues involved in what it perceives to be a disrupted moment in history in which a status quo power is being obliged to confront the reality of challenges to its brief moment as a hyperpower following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The threat of the great decoupling is a potentially historic break, an interruption perhaps only comparable to the sundering of the first huge wave of globalization in 1914, when deeply intertwined economies such as Britain and Germany, and later the United States, threw themselves into a barrage of self-destruction and economic nationalism that didn’t stop for 30 years. This time, though, decoupling is driven not by war but peacetime populist urges, exacerbated by a global coronavirus pandemic that has shaken decades of faith in the wisdom of international supply chains and the virtues of the global economy.
This scenario might be regarded as alarmist, even implausible, given difficulties that would arise in dismantling a highly integrated global economy. However, if a pandemic and response to it are a guide against the background of growing tensions between the US and China, the implausible becomes possible.
In the past week, Trump has opined about “cutting off the whole relationship” with China. He has also speculated about not repaying US$1 trillion in debt to China.
These are ridiculous statements, but the fact an American president in an election year could say such things is indicative of the sort of atmosphere that prevails in a country where a populist leader has been wounded by his own ineptitude.
However, if the 2016 US presidential election demonstrated anything, it was that a significant proportion of the American electorate will embrace an “America First” mindset that is antagonistic to the outside world.
Nationalistic Sinophobes on Trump’s immediate staff feed his populist impulses and his anti-China rhetoric at the risk of deepening a global recession or even depression.
Foreign Policy quotes Zoellick liberally 15 years after his “responsible stakeholder” speech. His warnings today bear repeating in view of pressures in America to throw in the towel on engagement with the world’s largest population, second largest economy, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
If we have another pandemic, or environmental issues, or financial sector issues, or Iran, or North Korea, how effective are you going to be if you don’t have a working relationship with China?
It’s a good question.
Donald Trump is making good on his trade war rhetoric with China, announcing tariffs on a further US$200 billion worth of goods from the PRC. As China promises retaliation, the warmth of the Mar-a-Lago summit of April 2017 is a thing of the past. When this is added to the wide-ranging tensions such as the disputes over barely habitable rocks in the East China Sea, tensions over the competing claims in the South China Sea, and the spectre of nuclear catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, the sense of geopolitical risk is as palpable as it is frightening.
During such periods of turbulence, it is not surprising that scholars and commentators look to the past for parallels to current crises. Not long ago, the trend, prompted by the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, was to see Asia on the cusp of 1914-like conflagration. This proved a highly imperfect point of comparison.
Today, a more common refrain is that Asia is on the cusp of a new Cold War. If it were to happen, it would mean the rivalry that has been growing is transformed into overt militarised competition that drags the region into its vortex.
In this case, the US is confronted not by an expansionary Soviet Union seeking to capitalise on decolonisation to advance its ideological and geopolitical ambition, but by a resurgent China. Its ambitious president, Xi Jinping, has clearly set out his aim to make China the world’s preeminent national power.
Until very recently, it seemed unlikely that a Cold War with 21st century characteristics would eventuate. The USSR and United States inhabited almost entirely separate economic universes during the Cold War.
This meant the dynamic of competition was driven by power politics and ideology alone – the tempering effect of shared economic interests simply didn’t exist. Today, so the argument goes, their economic interdependence is a powerful brake on the worst instincts of the two countries.
While China and the US are in competition, the two countries have also established an extensive range of bilateral mechanisms to manage their complex relationship. There are around 1000 meetings between the countries every year, ranging from summit level down to mid ranking officials, covering issues from trade and investment to coastguard and fisheries.
The two countries know they have to work hard to ensure the competitive dynamic does not spiral out of control. And of course, both sides’ nuclear weapons act as a great disciplining force, ensuring even the most heated of relationships can remain short of outright conflict. Asia also has a wide array of institutional mechanisms such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit that regularly discuss their common concerns and build a sense of regional trust.
Yet, in spite of their many meetings, in which there is much discussion but little agreement, there are good reasons to think a Cold War 2.0 might be a good deal closer than we realise. The US and China are plainly entering into a period of significant geopolitical rivalry. Each has ambitions that are mutually incompatible. Beijing wants a south-east Asian region in which it is not beholden to US primacy, while Washington wants to sustain its regional dominance.
The two also find it extremely difficult to see the world from the other’s perspective. Washington does not seem able to grasp that even though Beijing benefited from US primacy in the region, it will not forever accept a price-taker’s position in the regional order.
For its part, Beijing simply does not believe Washington’s claim that it wants China to achieve its potential, and that this can occur without meaningful changes to the current international order. When that is added to the nationalism that is a powerful political force in both countries, the prospects of a bleak geopolitical future seem very real.
The trade war escalation is one of the most worrying developments. Not only does it signal a more turbulent and less dynamic period in the global economy, it represents the victory of nationalist politics over shared economic interests. More importantly, it may presage a return to a less integrated global economy.
Trump evidently wants to rip up global supply chains and turn back the clock to the days of mercantilist approaches to economic development. Most worryingly, due to China’s behaviour in the past — stealing IP, predatory approaches to foreign investment and refusing access to its vast markets — Trump’s tariffs have a surprising level of support in business circles in the US.
The risk is not only one of sustained tension between the world’s biggest economies, but significant division between the interests of the two most important countries. If the golden straitjacket of economic interdependence is gone, the prospects of geopolitics and nationalism winning the day are significantly enhanced. China also sees in the tariffs a confirmation of its long-held suspicion that the US is intent on keeping the country from fulfilling its potential.
Worryingly, there is widespread complacency in the region. We used to think great power politics had been banished by globalisation. We were wrong. We thought Trump would come to his economic sense when elected. Wrong again. And now the escalation of trade conflict is undermining the most important link between the US and China – their shared economic interests.
We must not fool ourselves again. High intensity geopolitical competition is increasingly likely. Unless the US and China can step down from the escalatory cycle they are on, we are sliding into another period in which great power rivalry, militarised competition and dangerous nationalism once again dominate the region.
Azerbaijan’s wide-ranging religious literature censorship system has started to affect evangelical leaders in the country, reports MNN.
Vice President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba was just in the country and says, “Two Baptist pastors were traveling between neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan — authorities confiscated Azerbaijani Bibles.”
According to Forum 18 News, an official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations said, “Our society doesn’t need books that don’t suit our laws and our beliefs.” He claimed that unspecified religious literature could cause unspecified “social harm and possibly inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence.”
Rakhuba says an amendment allowing strict censorship will be heading for a referendum this month. He says believers may face raids reminiscent of the Cold War if the censorship issue continues. “Local police will be searching homes of evangelical leaders, and they will take all their Christian literature away from them.”
This will mean little, says Rakhuba. “Basically there is a dictatorship in Azerbaijan,” he says.
Russian Ministries works to empower the national evangelical church. They intend to do that despite the persecution. “We’re very much considering and praying and evaluating our resources to see how we can start our School Without Walls program for the next academic year in the fall.”
School without Walls is a program that helps train next generation church leaders, and Rakhuba says their work must continue. “The church is not scared. The church is growing. The church needs a lot more support to continue their ministry in the circumstances like that.”
Support comes in the form of prayer and dollars. Rakhuba says financial support is wide ranging. “The church needs support for training resources, to have more Bibles, to have more Christian literature. All of this is not allowed there, but they know how to smuggle it to Azerbaijan and make it available.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
The Russians are finally beginning to leave Georgia – well parts of it anyway. Slowly the Russians are beginning to adhere to the ceasefire agreement they agreed to over a week ago. However, it would seem they will not leave Georgia completely as they intend to maintain a ‘peacekeeping’ force in various locations.
The Russians and militia from both of the rebellious enclaves that were formerly part of the sovereign state of Georgia, have inflicted enormous casualties and damage on the Georgian people and state.
It seems that there is now a rapidly widening divide between Russia and the West, with a possible re-emergence of a Cold War status. The Russians have even threatened Poland with a pre-emptive nuclear strike for seeking to join NATO and for allowing the deployment of an anti-missile system within its borders.
View damage in Georgia below:
It would seem that Russia is continuing its military action in Georgia despite agreeing to a ceasefire and the presence of American military personal in Georgia. They seemed to halt for a moment when the Americans arrived, but have since continued their push into the heart of the country and onward towards the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. It would seem you can’t trust the Russians at their word, which would make them very close to the Soviet era approach to world diplomacy.
Is the Russian Federation becoming a rogue state? That is the question facing the West. I would personally view the Russian Federation as being very close to being a rogue state, if not already a rogue state. Russia is acting more and more like a tyrant toward the former Soviet republics that have gained independence.
Not satisfied with acting the bully toward the former Soviet republics, Russia is now turning its thug-like activities to countries that were formerly part of the Eastern Bloc, with Poland being a particular target.
Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn has suggested that Poland is now open to a strike (which could mean a pre-emptive nuclear attack) for entertaining the possibility of joining NATO and deploying an American anti-missile system on its soil.
It would seem that the Cold War may be returning in a new manifestation – perhaps Cold War II.