Washington Hears Echoes of the ’50s and Worries: Is This a Cold War With China?

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The White House is loath to place a label on this multilayered strategy, which can clarify why Mr. Biden has but to provide a speech laying it out in any element. But his actions up to now look more and more like these in a world of aggressive coexistence, a bit edgier than the “peaceful coexistence” that the Soviet chief Nikita S. Khrushchev used to characterize the outdated Cold War. (Interestingly, after meeting this month in Switzerland with Jake Sullivan, the president’s nationwide safety adviser, China’s high diplomat mentioned he objected to any description of the U.S.-China relationship as “competitive.”)

But if the administration remains to be battling the terminology, it says it is aware of what this isn’t.

“This is nothing like the Cold War, which was primarily a military competition,” one of Mr. Biden’s senior administration advisers mentioned in an interview, talking on the situation of anonymity as a result of, in the Biden White House, there isn’t any space the place phrases are measured extra rigorously than in speaking about relations with Beijing.

In July, Mr. Biden’s high Asia adviser, Kurt M. Campbell, told the Asia Society that the Cold War comparability “obscures more than it illuminates” and is “in no way helpful, fundamentally, to some of the challenges presented by China.”

The deep hyperlinks between the two economies — the mutual dependencies on know-how, commerce and information that leaps the Pacific in milliseconds on American and Chinese-dominated networks — by no means existed in the extra acquainted Cold War. The Berlin Wall not solely delineated a sharp line between spheres of affect, freedom and authoritarian management, it stopped most communications and commerce. The yr it fell, 1989, the United States exported $4.3 billion in items to the Soviets and imported $709 million, an inconsequential blip for each economies. (In present {dollars}, these numbers could be a bit greater than doubled.)

In this superpower standoff, all these strains are blurred, with Huawei and China Telecom tools operating information by means of NATO nations, the Chinese-owned TikTok app energetic on tens of hundreds of thousands of American telephones, and Beijing nervous that the West’s crackdown on promoting superior semiconductors to China could cripple some of its national champions, Huawei included. And but, even by means of a pandemic and threats of “decoupling,” the United States exported $124 billion in items to China final yr and imported $434 billion. That made China the largest provider of items to the United States, and the third largest shopper of its exports, after Canada and Mexico.

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