By Uditha Devapriya
“The background, cause and course of events of US House Speaker Pelosi’s provocative visit to Taiwan are abundantly clear. It was the United States that violated its one-China commitment and undermined China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, not the other way around. He is the American leader who traveled to China’s Taiwan region to support separatist “Taiwan independence” activities. No one from China has gone to Alaska or anywhere else in the United States to support the separatist movement there.
Wang Wenbin, August 19, 2022.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and fears of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan continue to define geopolitics today. While most countries have taken sides, others are at a crossroads, not knowing what to do next. Intermediate powers, such as India, have refused to take part in the great power game that is being played out in Asia and West Asia, except as far as its interests are concerned. Smaller players, including not only Sri Lanka but also countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, have taken a similarly ambivalent stance, calling for a de-escalation of hostilities on all sides while refraining. to name specific names.
These developments are not particularly new. They differ very little from the positions that these countries, and regions, took during the Cold War. But the new Cold War is different. It is not defined by any major geopolitical divide. Instead, we have different countries opposed to each other for some interests and allied to each other for others. Today’s geopolitics is far more complex than it has ever been.
Of course, that’s another way of saying we’re going through an unprecedented time in history. We have lived through at least two such periods before: the Cold War, when the United States was pitted against a common enemy in the Soviet Union; and the “unipolar moment,” when the United States was the sole superpower. Each era was defined by a competition between power and ideals: naked national interest versus universal abstractions like human rights, democracy, accountability and good governance. The current dynamic is of course no different. But the logic behind them is, and clearly so.
It is no longer about the age-old conflict between national interests and universal ideals. It’s a matter of perspective and perception. The US-led New Cold War front sees China’s claims on Taiwan as a violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty, while China sees Western interference in the Taiwan issue as a Same direction. For Beijing, the one-China policy is essential: enshrined in a UN resolution, the notion has been fully accepted and endorsed by international law. Likewise, Russia sees NATO’s ambitions in Eastern Europe, especially its former satellite states, as a breach of its security.
Put simply, each side is mobilizing the same rhetoric against the other. The United States sees China as undermining a rules-based order, while Chinese officials warn that the United States, by increasing its support for Taiwan, is pushing the world back to “rules of the jungle” and “times”. barbarians”. The United States used these terms to demonize its enemies even before the Cold War. The fact that China uses them today indicates two things: that it is adopting the rhetoric of a rules-based order and that it is deploying such rhetoric to defend its perception of this order, which is clearly not the same as that of the United States. or Western Europe.
Now, it’s easy to compare that with the Cold War. But then the situation was different. Even though the United States and the Soviet Union clashed over the same values, often in the same forums and institutions – the UN being the preferred platform – each side pursued a very different economic and political paradigm. The United States was committed to its vision of a free world, underpinned by a capitalist free market system, while the Soviet Union was committed to socialist transformation and reconstruction. Today, by contrast, the struggle is not between these paradigms, but between a range of interests and priorities, which both sides defend as the basis (the “grundnorm”) of the international order.
The Cold War allowed both sides to conceal these interests. Under various ideological covers, the United States and the Soviet Union could hide their intentions: if the United States deployed the rhetoric of human rights against the Soviet Union, the latter deployed the gospel of socialist reconstruction against the American axis.
Today, however, the question is not which gospel you prefer, but rather which version of the gospel. China uses human rights to criticize Western intervention in the same way the United States uses it to criticize China’s treatment of its minorities. Russia does the same vis-à-vis NATO. This made it easier for us to see through ideological obfuscations, while making it difficult for opposing factions to reach a compromise. In other words, what we see now is a naked display of self-interest, unfettered by universal ideals but masked in the language of them. The conflicts to which this gave rise, notes Matthew Kroenig in Foreign Policy, can only be resolved “after wars between great powers”.
Unsurprisingly, the left has also split. Admittedly, they were divided during the cold war, undoubtedly more than today. However, at the time, it did not matter whether one was a Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist or Castroist: the disagreements that prevailed between them were blurred in favor of a greater gap between Washington and Moscow.
By comparison, Marxists today are divided on one question: is the Western axis the only imperialist bloc, or do China and Russia belong in the same league? If so, should the left choose sides or should it criticize both? Should he ally with a specific block, or should he disengage from all blocks? That China, Russia and the United States use the same rhetoric on issues such as human rights, sovereignty and democracy has only complicated this debate. I think Rohini Hensman has summed up the dilemmas of the left better than anyone.
“Imperialism is opposed by national liberation struggles, which constitute an element of a democratic revolution – the people cannot govern themselves as long as they are governed by another nation-state – but not the only one. True anti-imperialists oppose all imperialisms, while pseudo-anti-imperialists oppose some while supporting others.
Rohini Hensman, “Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism”, Haymarket Books, 2018
The bottom line is that these parties play against each other using the language of the same morals, ethics and values. The West (the liberal axis) condemns China’s intentions in Taiwan, while China condemns US interventions in South America. The United States defends these interventions on the grounds that it is concerned with the preservation of certain ideals, while China responds that it is driven by the same motives in Taiwan and the South China Sea. Here, the role played by international institutions cannot be underestimated.
“Russia and China are infiltrating these institutions and turning them against their goals. Who can forget that Russia chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council as its armies invaded Ukraine in February? Similarly, China has used its influence in the World Health Organization to thwart an effective investigation into the origins of COVID-19. And dictators are vying for seats on the UN Human Rights Council to ensure their gross human rights abuses escape scrutiny. Instead of facilitating cooperation, international institutions increasingly exacerbate conflict.
Matthew Kroenig, “International Relations Theory Suggests Great Power War Is Coming”, Foreign Policy, August 27, 2022
In this respect, the attitude of the United States towards its two main rivals matters enormously. Richard Falk argues, for example, that Washington has paid more attention to Beijing than to Moscow, since the latter is perceived as a traditional enemy. China, on the other hand, is a bigger threat and is less manageable: the same point that international relations theorists like John Mearsheimer have been making for more than a decade, since Russia’s interventions in Crimea. For Falk, the new cold war has intersected with “an old geopolitics”. Calling for reason, he argues that the only way out is for the West to seriously engage with itself, to embark on a radical political agenda, since “the Chinese threat cannot be successfully fought head-on.” For better or for worse, such confrontations are now taken for granted, almost like the truth of the gospel.
Ironic as it may seem, Cold War hostilities were easily resolved and ended because the opposing sides differed on certain ideals. Admittedly, China and the United States are still not on the same page when it comes to these ideals. Yet they use the same rhetoric about them. This complicated geopolitics and made the idea of reconciliation between the opposing camps untenable. The Cold War saw its share of negotiators like Kissinger and Gorbachev. The current status quo has brought these individuals, heroes of the old order, into the new. Gorbachev is already dead. So we need a new logic and a new politics to make sense of our world. Until then, he will remain at an impasse.
The author is an international relations analyst, researcher and columnist who can be reached at [email protected]