Think Tank (5/2020)
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Nationalism, Ideology, and US-China Relations
24 Sep 2020

On 24 September 2020, Dr Adam Garfinkle, RSIS Distinguished Visiting Fellow and founding editor of The American Interest, presented a webinar titled “Nationalism, Ideology, and US-China Relations”.

Dr Garfinkle said that the United States, having been disappointed in its belief that China would be “liberalised” through economic engagement with the world, is now seeking a “rectification of names” — rendering a “new Cold War” as a shorthand for the US-China rivalry.

According to Dr Garfinkle, while “rivalry” is an apt description of US-China relations, it is not a “new Cold War”. Firstly, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were peer competitors in political and military terms, whereas China has not yet attained peer competitor status. Secondly, during the Cold War, both Americans and the Soviets believed that an existential moral struggle was at stake. In the current context, however, China is uninterested in exporting Communist ideology and fomenting a worldwide ideological struggle. Thirdly, the Cold War was fought between two blocs and not just two countries, which placed a premium on coalition maintenance. The US-China rivalry does not resemble a bloc competition: China has no allies while the American alliance system has been transformed radically in the post-Cold War era. Fourthly, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were not closely linked economically. Even with the US-China rivalry, decoupling is simply unrealistic.

Dr Garfinkle explained that China is pursuing what European great powers had sought in the past, i.e., economic nationalism and mercantilism, and that China’s strategy is geoeconomical rather than geopolitical. The United States, for its part, tends to “theologise” geopolitics when aroused, such that its foreign policy closely resembles a secularised version of Protestant eschatology. This is dangerous as it leads the United States to mistake cultural differences with China for ideological differences.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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