Choosing sides in a cold war
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2020 - 12:00am

The Filipino people are engrossed in the pandemic crisis severely affecting public health and the economy. There is, however, a  geopolitical crisis that will have a longer and more lasting effect already looming over our country and the world. There are observers who believe that this crisis has started to happen. This is a new cold war between the US and China. The geographic location of the Philippines will force us to eventually choose one side over the other. Any hope of neutrality is impossible.

A cold war is a state of conflict between nations that does not involve direct military action but is pursued primarily through economic and political actions, propaganda acts, acts of espionage or proxy wars waged by surrogates.

From 1947, the end of the Second World War, to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the US and their respective allies. In Asia, a similar situation was happening between China and the US and respective allies. The cold war ended when  the  Soviet Union, under Gorbachev introduced liberalizing reforms and refused military support for their puppet states. This led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the peaceful overthrow of Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe.  The fall of the Soviet Union was largely due to the diplomatic, military and economic pressure by the US and its allies on the Soviet Union.

In Asia, the opening up of China under Deng Xiaoping led to the perception that China was on its way of liberalizing the country’s government. Deng also made a promise in a UN speech that China would never act like a superpower.

Under Xi Jinping China has changed dramatically.  Ideology has become one of the basic reasons for the division between the two countries. A basic problem between the two is their diametrically opposed political systems and associated values. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has openly criticized the view of democracy as a weakness and believe that their authoritarian model is superior. The CCP places more importance on political stability and social order over the rights of the individual and freedom of expression.

The problem becomes more acute when both countries believe their rival wants to impose their own system on the world or propagate them internationally. China’s leaders have long resented what they see as unwarranted interference in their internal affairs.  They see the US expression of support for the democratic movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan as political interference. Even the condemnation of repression of the Uighur minorities in China is cause for resentment by CCP leaders.

The Trump administration condemns China for interfering in US domestic policies, conducting political warfare and attempting to export its authoritarian model to other countries.

The basic weakness in the present American initiative is that Trump has failed to organize a strong alliance against China. However, this weakness could disappear if Biden is elected President this November. Already he has proposed holding a Summit of Democracies once he is elected. He has also promised that human rights will be at the core of his foreign policy. The critical thing is that Biden will again renew a strong democratic alliance. There is already talk of forming D10 which means forming an alliance composed of the members of the Group of 7 – US, UK, Japan, France, Germany, France and Italy – and adding Australia, India, South Korea. This has not happened; but, in a Biden presidency this is very possible.

The other cause for unease in the world is China’s aggressiveness in pursuing its objectives which is termed “wolf warrior”diplomacy. Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of the Guardian newspaper recently wrote:

“Those who argue that a more economically liberal China would produce a more politically liberal China fear they have found themselves on the wrong side of history. From the airspace over Taiwan to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the frozen Himalayas on the border with  India and the reefs surrounding the Paracel islands in the South China Sea, Chinese assertiveness is prompting a reassesment. The Australian government’s call out a state-led cyber attack was only the latest evidence of a new mindset.”

Many countries are still trying to stay neutral, but the scope for neutrality or non-alignment is narrowing. India was able to stay neutral in the last Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US. It called this stance strategic autonomy.  However, the recent bloody clashes in the Himalayas between Indian and Chinese troops have made neutrality for India an impossible stance. India is now assumed to becoming a vital party in an alliance of Democracies.

The UK has very strong economic ties with China. However, recently the UK has banned Huawei from providing 5G infrastructure equipment to local carriers. After Dec. 31, British telecom operators will no longer be allowed to buy or use Huawei 5G components in their next gen networks. In addition, all currently deployed Huawei 5G equipment must be removed by 2027. This is a sample of actions motivated by a Cold War. Global hostility toward China is at its worst levels since Tienanmen Square in 1989. And the US is being blamed.

The South China Sea will be at the frontline of a cold or hot war. While the Philippines  should  try its best to stay neutral, I think that sooner or later it will have to choose one side. Let us hope this Cold War will not become a Hot War.

An invitation for young writers, ages 8-15:

Young Writers’ Hangout is back with Neni SR Cruz!  Zoom with us on July 25, 2-3 pm. For details, contact 0945-2273216

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