Chinese diplomats and state media often refer to America’s “Cold War” mentality on issues ranging from the South China Sea to the Belt and Road Initiative and trade. They’re not the only ones who are using the phrase.
Speaking at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, a Central Intelligence Agency official used the term to refer to China’s efforts to become more competitive on the global landscape.
China’s policy initiatives, “by their own terms and what Xi Jinping himself annunciates … I would argue by definition … what they are waging against us is fundamentally a cold war,” said Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the East Asia and Pacific mission of the CIA.
“A cold war not like what we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition,” he stressed.
“A country that exploits all avenues of power – licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military – to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing, without resorting to conflict,” he went on. “The Chinese do not want conflict. They don’t want war. They don’t want conflagration.”
In conclusion, he said: “the Chinese want to replace us as the leading power in the world.”
Which raises the question: Why shouldn’t they?
Collins didn’t answer that question and instead expressed a common fear among policymakers in Washington, which echoes fears of a challenge to US democracy from communism during the Cold War, that Beijing wanted to undermine the liberal world order, and institutions of democracy with it.
“I worry as well about their interference in our thought. They are fundamentally trying to encourage those of us – the Chinese diaspora more broadly, those of us with whom they have influence – to think their way about governance and not perhaps the way we … think about the liberal international order.”
The comments come as relations between China and the United States have soured dramatically under the administration of US President Donald Trump, most recently on trade. In a move that Beijing criticized as being rooted in Cold War ideology, the Trump administration’s new national security and national defense strategies both labeled China as “strategic competitor” for the first time, identifying China, along with Russia, as among the greatest threats facing US interests.