The world at large has a vital stake in the relationship between the largest and the second largest power. More than it did when the US and the erstwhile USSR were at each other’s throat in the 45-year-long Cold War. The first cold war was broadly between the democratic West and the Communist East. A number of Afro-Asian countries sought to maintain equidistance between the rival blocs, or leaned towards one while pretending to be neutral. India claimed to be neutral, but for all purposes was aligned with the Soviet Union. Aside from the proclivities of the rulers, the fact that Pakistan was a duly paid-up member of the anti-Communist bloc, CENTO, left India little choice. The Cold War ended with the eventual breakup of the USSR into several independent nations. It took several years for the successor State, Russia, to rise from the detritus of the Soviet Union. But even then strongman Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no longer the principal power to challenge the lone super power, the US. That place now belongs to China, which all through the Cold War was at loggerheads with its Communist neighbour. Russia is a much smaller power than China, though it has a superior nuclear arsenal. The reason why the Cold War 2.0 will be far more fierce is that the Chinese economy is far stronger than the USSR’s. Besides, China is openly expansionist. Competition with the USA had hollowed out the USSR economy but China owes its rise to the wrongheadedness of the US which virtually built the China’s economy hoping it would embrace democracy. Belying the hope, China now bites the hand that fed it. More importantly, China is unlikely to repeat the USSR’s mistakes. Also, the world has vastly changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It is closely interlinked economically; inter-dependence on trade, technology, energy supplies, etc., is greater than at any time before. Race to develop superior technology, including Artificial Intelligence, for use in everyday life as also for military use, animates both the USA and China. The ouster of the Chinese tech giant, Huawei, from the US and other countries underlines the next big battleground, that is, the cyber space. China is aggressive in using military and money power to suppress its neighbours and near-neighbours on land and sea. And it is the new imperial power, seeking to colonize poorer nations. A number of our neighbours feel obliged to sing the Chinese tune because we cannot match the billions China throws at them only to bend the sovereign nations to its will. China grabs projects, lands, shipyards et al, on failure of borrowing nations to service debt.
China has now fully turned on its benefactor. Last week, Trump’s always articulate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo minced no words in describing the threat China poses to the global order. It was perhaps only appropriate the US-China love affair should end where it had all begun. Almost fifty years after Nixon and his cerebral Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had pulled China from the fringes into the wider global community, Pompeo, speaking at the Nixon Library, laid out in great detail the vicious nature of the Chinese regime. He painted a scary picture of an evil empire out to menace the world. “This is not about containment…It is about a complex new challenge that we have never faced before. The USSR was closed off from the free world. Communist China is already within our borders.” He accused Beijing of seeking to subvert democratic nations, penetrating their security, compromising their vital supply systems, etc. China, he said, seeks domination. “Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time, America is perfectly positioned to lead it because our founding principles give us that opportunity.” You can discern the coming of the Cold War-2 in Pompeo’s forceful elucidation of the Chinese threat. His ringing message inverts the Ronald Regan’s famous dictum about Russia, ‘trust but verify’, into “Distrust and verify”. How we wish India’s rulers instead of being taken in by the ‘bhai-bhai’ and ‘jhoola’ diplomacy had heeded at least Reagan’s, if not Pompeo’s advice. Even now it may not be too late to heed what Mao had said in the context of the Sino-China relationship back in 1949. ‘Cast away illusions, prepare for struggle.’ Seventy years later, China has risen to look America in the eye. Let us begin our own struggle to be able to stand up to the evil power, hopefully, sometime in the not-too-distant a future.