US-China Stand-off — An Emerging Scenario of Cold War

By: Sudhanshu Tripathi, Ph.D

The on-going bitterness between the US and China may be regarded as a reminder of the Cold War years between the US and the erstwhile USSR that emerged immediately after the Second World War. Today, the rising Chinese assertion in the World and, as a counter, the American policy of containment of Chinese sphere of influence may pave way for another round of Cold War between them.


Amidst continuing assertion by the US of its presence in Asia-Pacific region as reflected in Washington’s “strategic pivot” to Asia for past some time and, consequent, Chinese growing concerns, the mutual bickering between the two powers are now becoming order of the day. Since the American President Obama made his maiden presence in the East Asia Summit at Bali in November, 2011 and later concluded a security arrangement with Australia providing for expanded American military presence there with more and more personnel and equipment and also increasing the US access to Australia’s bases, the evolving scenario offers the US’s serious push for an open and inclusive focus on Asia-Pacific region which is being considered as a befitting response to Beijing’s rising aggressive posture. Elaborating on the US defence strategies, the US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta outlined the future American roadmap as follows: “America is a turning point. After a decade of war, we are developing the new defence strategy. In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region (IOC) and South Asia. Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.”

Why is this extra American interest and consequent thrust in this region as it makes China suspicious of the US’ new defence strategy involving India as “linchpin” in the US’s new scheme for a “re-balancing” of its forces towards the Asia-Pacific region? Adding further, the US Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Clinton, who met the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum meet in Phnom Penh on July 12, 2012, said without directly naming China that, “worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and governmental vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen”, in likely reference to the recent stand-off between vessels from China and Philippines- a traditional ally of America- at the Scarborough Shoal. Obviously, the increasing Chinese assertiveness in the vexed South China Sea question at this crucial juncture looks as a part of its strategy to counter the US’s mounting naval hedging of the Asia- Pacific region keeping in mind the fast developing security environment in the volatile zone. Brewing Up a Conflict With China

However, according to US officials, Mr. Yang had given “a careful indication”, during talks, of its desire to participate in a dialogue on a code of conduct that the US and ASEAN countries have been calling for to defuse any tension in the disputed China Sea. Also, Yang said that both nations “should put in place a sound pattern of interaction in the Asia-Pacific that features win-win cooperation” and expressed his hope that the US “will respect the interests and concerns of China and other countries in the region.”

Downplaying Strains

At the same time, underscoring keenness to downplay any strain with China, Ms. Clinton said that “the United States and China not only can, but will work together in Asia”. And both governments released a note that pledging “to enhance and initiate collaborative efforts in the region” in fields ranging from climate change and energy policy, to disaster warning and response. Although both the US and China appeared trying to play down strains following Phnom Penh talks, yet China’s irritation at Ms. Clinton’s comments made during her latest Asia visit, both on the South China Sea and on Democracy and Human Rights in the region, was apparent in two commentaries published in the Party-run People’s Daily.

Attacking Ms. Clinton for comments in Mongolia calling on Asian countries to embrace democracy, an editorial in the party’s official newspaper said that Asian countries “can solve their own problems and can find a path different from the West to suit their national characteristics.” Also the US is not the judge on human rights and democracy for Asia and the whole world, criticising her (Ms. Clinton) as a “preacher” for human rights.

Dreaming of Next Hegemon

Evidently, such bitterness is a clear reflection of growing mistrust and consequent rivalry between them for global predominance, although China has still not come out of the enigma of “middle kingdom complex”, and the US is a bit afraid of China’s amazing economic and technological progress and also its state of art military modernisation and advancement. The successful hosting of the Beijing Olympics has also added another feather into its cap.

Further, with the resurgence of Asia with adjoining regions and due to gradual decline of the US and the fall of Western Europe, a new world order appears to be emerging, in which rising imperialistic assertions accompanied by awesome military power of China is a cause of worry not only to the US but also to the whole world because it has emerged as the rising economic power, surpassing even Germany and Japan and stands next to the US in its economic stature. It is also nourishing the dream of becoming a dominant super power by replacing the US in order to become the next hegemon in succession to the UK in the recent past.


Thus all these developments have significantly improved China’s economic and military clout as a dominant player and also a prominent decision maker into almost all international and global affairs which may ultimately replace America from its position of global supremacy. Considering China’s position of strength today, it can reasonably be argued of the emergence of an alternate pole of global power of supremacy after the erstwhile USSR, and consequent emergence of new Cold War between them, particularly because the 21st century is being widely acknowledged as that of Asia with the geo-politics shifting away from the hitherto traditional Anglo-American centre of power.

About the author: Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor of Political Science based in India. Click here to mail him.