Cool War: United States and China in the future of the global competition



Are we on the edge of a new Cold War era? Or, alternatively, every power struggle mindset has to be considered a lost legacy of the XX century and we’re headed to a new era of global cooperation?

These are the big questions opening Cool War by Noah Feldman, a must read essay on the present and future balance of power between China and the US, through the deep ties connecting the two countries and the permanent tensions and challenges.

Feldman is an International Law professor at Harvard Law School, member of the Council of foreign relations and columnist on the New York Times Magazine and Blomberg View.

Can’t miss this book if you want to understand the current strategic options available on the scenario and leading to the future relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Feldman provides important points of view on several aspects of the evolving challenge for the super-power role in the next future, but some concepts are really disruptive while considering a pragmatic analysis of the chessboard.

The conflict is inevitable. The high level of economic interdependence between the two countries is well known, and it’s deeply tied to the US debts in Chinese hands until the impressive import/export volume connecting the two economies. Their fate is common and deeply tied to each other, but conflict is unavoidable. Feldman points out how Henry Kissinger, who’s been probably the best US analyst on Chinese affairs for the last 40 years, in his last book on the Chinese Republic explains the situation telling the story of Mr. Eyre Crowe, a UK government official author of 1907 memorandum on Germany.

Crowe wrote that, despite any government change in Germany, the mere economic growth and strategic weight increase, would have led Germany to challenge the UK leadership because of actual and realistic needs. War wasn’t about the decision of a political leadership, but more a practical effect of an inevitable economic and strategic conflict. Kissinger remarks how Mr. Crowe was right about First World War and, of course, the Second as well.

Therefore, being pragmatic, the current decrease of the relative economic power of the United States, and China’s unstoppable economic ascent, is automatically boosting a permanent conflict. If India is eventually expected to reshape the economic and trade balance of the global chessboard, China poses itself as a challenging leader both for objective interest and historical legacy.

Feldman leads us to the vital connections of this permanent conflict: from the ideology issue and the contrast between two incompatible systems of values (especially for the universalistic spirit of the Western values), until the internal power streams inside the Chinese government, deeply related to its leadership transition and the legitimation of the government itself. According to Feldman’s analysis, Chinese leadership is a permeable elite going through a difficult transition that began with the Bo Xilai case and the recent leadership renovation, deeply connected with the Chinese system of the personal relations.

Therefore, Feldman provides the definition of Cool War: not an actual conflict nor a Cold War situation, but a structured evolution of the objective conflict we described. Its effects are the trade disputes inside the WTO, the companies direct commercial wars and the dumping policies, cybercrime and espionage, being strategic in the current relationship between the two countries. Feldman provides a complete and detailed analysis of all the characteristics of the conflicts, leading to important questions about the future of the human rights from a realistic, pragmatic point of view on the global strategic scenario.

But there are several options, because the future is unwritten: even if the Cool War will be probably carried on without leading to traditional or military conflicts, but will reshape the current and future global scenario for sure. Even if we won’t see any bullet, the Cool War will be fought. The reason is that each contending part has good reasons to expect a possible victory over the other one, and this mere pre-condition is sufficient to influence drastically the whole scenario.

The match is still going on, and the final score is unpredictable.

Categories: Finance & Economy

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6 replies

  1. Build Wall High, Store Much Food, Delay Pursuing Kingship

    “Build wall high, store much food grains and delay pursuing kingship.” That was the key advice Zhu Yuanzhang received from his advisor that enabled him to grow very powerful from a small force and finally establish his Ming Dynasty.

    He strengthened the defensive walls around the cities occupied by him and stored lots of food grains in them but refrained from claiming himself as a king. As he delayed to claim himself as a king, he was not regarded by his rivals as ambitious. As a result, his growth in strength was not regarded as a threat by his powerful rivals until he had grown strong enough to defeat them.

    Mao learnt from Zhu’s success and adopted the policy of “digging tunnel deep, store much food grains and refrain from pursuing hegemony” when his pursuit of leadership in the Socialist Camp failed and was under the threat of imminent Soviet attack. However, he owed his success in removing the threat by his wise improvement of China’s ties with the US instead of that policy.

    We can see that China is now carrying out a policy similar to Zhu Yuanzhang’s of “build up active defense capabilities, seek economic growth and refrain from pursuing hegemony”.

    Therefore, it wants to build a new type of major power relationship with the US instead of contending for world leadership with the US.

    It adopts the policy of Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road to go west instead of contending with the US in the Asian-Pacific region when the US is pursuing rebalance in Asia.

    It has only protested strongly in words without taking any serious action against US provocation in sending warship within 12 nautical miles of its artificial islands

    However, in spite of China’s practices of lying low, some US media still exaggerate Chinese threat. That is typically reflected in US media The Daily Beast’s article “Now China Wants Okinawa, Site of U.S. Bases in Japan” with the headline “Beijing is pushing out in all directions, from the South China Sea to several Japanese islands, with an eye on the eastern Pacific that laps American shores.”

    The Japanese islands the article refers to are the Diaoyus (known as Senkakus in Japan) and the group of islands of Okinawa that were formerly the territories of Ryukyu Kingdom, a subordinate to China that China has the obligations to protect.

    Japan invaded and conquered Ryukyu Kingdom when China was weak and unable to protect it. What China must be upset is the fact that the Japanese invaders massacred most Ryukyu people killing hundreds of thousands of them.

    China has never claimed sovereignty to Ryukyu and will never try to take Ryukyu, but if Ryukyu people want independence, China has the obligations to support them due to their miserable past. That is what the articles in Chinese media means.

    The article tries to confuse China’s claim of sovereignty to the Diaoyus with Ryukyu. Unlike Ryukyu, the tiny Diaoyu Islands are parts of Taiwan that were annexed by Japan along with Taiwan Island when China was defeated by Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895. They must have been returned to China along with Taiwan after Japan was defeated in World War Two; therefore, not only the People’s Republic of China on Chinese mainland but also the Republic of China in Taiwan claims sovereignty to those tiny islands. Does that mean that Taiwan has the ambition to take Ryukyu?


    In fact, even the US has made clear that it has returned the administration of the Diaoyus to Japan as previously it took the administration from Japan. In doing so it has not given the sovereignty to the islands to Japan. The article just disregards that fact.

    It is even more absurd that the article claims that China has ambition with respect to eastern Pacific that laps American shores.

    That precisely proves the needs for China to refrain from pursuing hegemony. China needs a peaceful environment for its economic growth while quite a few US politicians want to contain it. As world hegemony is so important to them, their fear of China’s rise is natural. However, China shall never pursue world hegemony. That is why Chinese elite scholars, writers and historians all believe that the reason why of all ancient cultures, Chinese culture has been able to survive for four thousands of years is because China has never tried to conquer the world.

    Pursue no world hegemony! That is my advice for China. I am happy China is doing precisely that now.

    Comments by Chan Kai Yee on The Daily Beast’s article, which can be viewed at



  1. Cool War: United States and China in the future of the global competition | Unchain the tree
  2. Pay attention America, Cool War: United States and China in the future of the global competition | Unchain the tree
  3. Cadence of Conflict: Asia, April 18, 2016 | China Daily Mail

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