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Does Pence's speech signal a new 'Cold War' ?

China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-09 06:57
[Ma Xuejing / China Daily]

Editor's note: US Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a speech on Thursday in which he criticized China on multiple fronts. Among other things, Pence accused China of meddling in the US' midterm elections in a bid to undermine the Donald Trump administration. Some have claimed his speech indicates the start of a new "Cold War". What does the speech mean for bilateral ties? Three experts share their views with China Daily's Liu Jianna. Excerpts follow:

Pence speech exposes White House's anxiety

In general, Pence's speech manifested that the United States indeed cares a lot about China, so much so that it has incited many grudges. Also the speech disclosed a sense of helplessness, to which the lack of new measures towards China has attested. Previously the US has been busy criticizing and meddling in China's domestic practices, but now it has shifted to accusing China of interfering with its domestic affairs, which signifies a turn of the tide in its China policies and the bilateral relationship.

Overall, Pence has lashed out at China for three reasons: First, he aims to build momentum for the midterm elections as the election is tight right now and both parties have no obvious advantages. The Republican Party has targeted China in the hope of winning over voters and retaining control of the House of Representatives.

Second, the Trump administration, which the right wing rhetorician Republican represented, is unduly anxious about China. The trade brawl it instigated with China six months ago has yielded modest effects, to the administration's anxiety and frustration. Pence's speech merely displayed this anxiety.

Third, Pence may intend to show his allegiance to President Donald Trump by this fierce speech against China. A recent article in The New York Times cited an anonymous high-ranking official, who claimed to be part of the resistance against Trump in the administration, and many have speculated that the unnamed official was actually Pence, thus the vice-president may felt compelled to demonstrate his loyalty to the president.

Given the similar style of Pence's speech and Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech in 1946, which opened the curtain on the Cold War, some claimed it marks the beginning of a new Cold War. Yet history does not simply repeat itself, a speech alone, no matter how vehement cannot instigate an all-out confrontation and spark a war. At the moment, there is no consensus on China within US society, neither have its allies offered the US the support it hoped for in confronting China. In addition, with close economic ties with the US and an extremely attractive market, China does not resemble the Soviet Union in any sense. Also, needless to say, China has no desire to be party to a "Cold War".

Pence's speech highlights that the Trump administration thinks much of China and views it as the US' primary rival. China should attach importance to this change of dynamics in bilateral relations and make preparations, but it should remain reasonable and stay calm, avoiding overreaction as it has no need to panic and be afraid.

China should adjust its macroeconomic policy, stimulate domestic demand to expand consumption on one hand, and expedite the reform and opening-up to improve enterprises' efficiency and revitalize the economy on the other.

Jin Canrong, a professor at and the associate dean of the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China

Election politics worsen Sino-US trade dispute

Revealing that the Trump administration has taken China to be the US' top competitor, Mike Pence's speech can be seen as a watershed in the ongoing China-US trade dispute and President Trump's China policies. Aiming to push forward the US' stance in the trade frictions and coerce China to make substantial concessions on multiple fronts including trade and intellectual property protection, Pence has called upon US society and the international community to confront China. Which lays bare the Trump administration's desire to stall China's rise. Besides, making China a campaign foe provides the Republican Party a foothold in not only the upcoming midterm elections but also the presidential election in two years.

The speech reveals the clearer positioning of China in the Trump administration's global strategy. Yet interpreting this as presaging a new "Cold War" is going too far.

Regarding the speech itself, the following points needs our particular attention. First of all, Pence vehemently attacked China's practices in human rights and religious freedom, deviating from the Trump administration's previous modus operandi of not making the human rights issue a major concern in the bilateral relationship. Furthermore, Pence directed the attack against the Chinese government and portrayed it as an evil empire which completely disregards international rules.

Facing the biggest crisis in international relationships in 40 years, what China needs to do is refuting the criticism while better integrating itself with the world. Time will tell what kind of country China really is. Most important, China should not treat this lightly as what happens as a result of the administration's designs will influence the bilateral relationship for the next 10 to 20 years. The key is to take initiative as much as possible and respond with more swiftness and preciseness when necessary.

Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Relations of Nanjing University

Two sides still far from all-out confrontation

As a matter of fact, it is nothing new for the two US political parties to bash China during elections. Certainly Pence has vented the administration's discontent with China with an eye on the midterm elections, which are sure to exert much influence on the status of the Republican Party and thus the presidential election in 2020.

So it would be farfetched to say at the moment that the US is launching an all-out confrontation, even a new "Cold War" with China. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration can and will mobilize the US' military strength to confront China. Nevertheless, a consensus has been emerged in the US to take a more aggressive and tough approach towards China. And Pence's speech, which was laden with laments, has sent a negative signal, to say the least.

The inking of agreements with Canada and Mexico, together with the ongoing talks with the European Union, have enabled the administration to concentrate its concerns on China in a bid to contain the latter's growing influence.

Later on the US may introduce some radical policies on trade, the South China Sea and the Tibet issue.

But in assuming that it can coerce China into concessions with its extreme pressure strategy, the Trump administration is making a serious mistake. It should change its strategy in its dealings with a major country like China.

Instead of firing at China and making bilateral ties a scapegoat, the US should reflect on its domestic ills with more courage and wisdom, and the Trump administration should recalibrate China-US relations as the changing dynamics it is creating in bilateral ties will have far-reaching influences on global stability and development.

All in all, it is essential of China and the US to repair relations and avoid conflict at all costs.

Fu Mengzi, vice-president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

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