Mapping the Second Cold War
(Second of two parts)
The FIRST COLD WAR was the result of the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for which the Great Power would lead post-WWII Europe. West Berlin was the symbol and the center of the conflict. The interests and alliances of the vying rivals ensured that the competition would be global. One of the first milestones in its history established the main Asian front line. A hot civil war sparked by North Korea’s Communist attack on South Korea, where US troops were still deployed, turned international with UN involvement in South Korea’s defense and intervention from Communist China to prevent a North Korean defeat.
Cold War I therefore cooled Asia as well. The threat that the Korean War could escalate and become nuclear helped persuade protagonists that a Cold War was the preferable option, especially after the Soviet Union acquired its own nuclear weapons and could threaten destruction on each other. assured. But much of the Asian continent has rejected any involvement in the conflict. The Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung in 1955, attended by 29 countries, representing 54% of the world’s population, laid the foundation for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The cardinal principle of the movement committed its members to avoid participation in American or Soviet military alliances and the subordination of their foreign policy to the interests of the two great powers.
Burma (Myanmar), India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were among the organizers, and its most visible leaders included Sukarno, the Indonesian host of the conference, and Jawaharlal Nehru of India. The group also included the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an ally of the Soviet Union, thus raising a question about the meaning of “non-alignment” in the Cold War I. Now that China is one of the poles of the Second Cold War. conflict, Asian NAM oriented members face a bigger problem.
The United States and the Soviet Union both established a footprint in Asia. Since the fragmentation of the Soviet Union in 2001, Russia has grown to be the economic size of South Korea. Although sometimes caricatured as a large gas station with nuclear weapons, it is still a powerful country, but, like the United States, it is only remotely present on the continental periphery. It is easier for the countries of the South East to maintain a political distance from the antagonists who are also distant. The PRC is the rising Asian power in the neighborhood of East and Southeast Asia. The card makes a difference. The 20 countries with which China shares land or sea borders include seven of the 10 ASEAN countries.
Beyond geography, China had been the dominant power in Asia for thousands of years, rivaled only by India in its civilizational impact. It was the Middle Empire, claiming suzerainty over all countries under Heaven, so advanced in state organization, wealth, and military might that it had no interest in caring about land. neighbors like Luzon, populated only by “snakes and barbarians”. Needing nothing from foreigners, the Empire had no missionary, military or mercantile objectives. He graciously accepted the homage of his neighbors and allowed them to share his goods and his culture. But the poor and enterprising Chinese migrated to Southeast Asia in search of livelihoods, eventually sinking into their roots to settle permanently in the region and serve as a major channel of cultural transmission.
This historical context of cultural and blood ties with China and the sympathies of NAM made the virtual summit meeting of March 12 of the “Quad” (United States, Australia, India, Japan) “historic”, as has been said. affirmed all the participating leaders. While the agenda covered many issues, including the pandemic, discussions of the Indo-Pacific strategy, cyber attacks and security concerns in the South China Sea surrounded the unmentioned dragon in the room.
The Japanese constitution of 1947 had “[renounced] war as the sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. He also prohibited Japan from maintaining a military organization and acquiring offensive military weapons. These constitutional constraints limited Japan’s participation in the 1990 Gulf War to financial support. Efforts to remove these restrictions since the 1990s have not been successful. The Quad initiative signals the desire to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities. Biden’s April 16 meeting with Yoshihide Suga, his first with a foreign leader, directly raised the need “to meet China’s challenges … to secure the future of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The speculation that a rugged Quad could be the magnet to lure countries like Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which along with India were the early supporters of NAM to its orbit, would mark a shift in political outlook of these countries. Despite current concerns about the PRC, non-alignment in clashes between the great powers during the Second Cold War remains the preferred option of Asian countries. They want to avoid making a choice between China and the United States, not only for ideological consistency in the case of members of the Non-Aligned Movement, nor because of the economic benefits that the Chinese market and Chinese investments bring. .
Aligning with the United States will obviously win hostility from the PRC, with all the attendant risks. And yet, as Vietnam and the Philippines have experienced, their interests, let alone their values, do not properly align with those of China. Will a policy of non-alignment be enough to protect them from the aggressive, “wolf-warrior” and “strong power” diplomacy that the PRC has recently deployed? Non-alignment was easier to preach and practice when the Great Power’s crunch was in Berlin and the Soviet Union was far away.
The heart of the Second Cold War contest shifted to the South China Sea and Taiwan. Do our leaders, present and potential, have the vision, the skills and the courage to face the potential crises that this will bring?
(Part 1 of this piece can be found here Cold War II? – BusinessWorld (https://www.bworldonline.com/cold-war-ii/).)
Edilberto C. De Jesus, PhD is Principal Investigator at the Ateneo School of Government.