Thinking Citizen Blog —Is “Cold War” with China inevitable?

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: is “Cold War” with China inevitable? is it here? what does it mean?

Definition is everything. Is the “Cold War” analogy relevant to thinking about US-China relations in 2020? What are the similarities and differences between US-Soviet relations between 1945 and 1989 and US-China relations now?

Today the summary of an article on the subject by Joe Nye, former Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard (1995–2004), as well as former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1994–5), and deputy Undersecretary of State (1977–9). He argues that cold war is avoidable. But what is cold war? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “In the past decade, Chinese leaders abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s moderate policy of biding their time. They became more assertive, building artificial islands in the South China Sea and coercing Australia economically.”

2. “On trade, China tilted the playing field with subsidies to state-owned enterprises and forced intellectual-property transfer. “

3, “Mr. Trump was clumsy in responding with tariffs on both allies and China, but he was correct to defend against Chinese companies like Huawei, whose plans to build 5G networks pose a security threat.”

THIS IS NOT THE COLD WAR — no ideological threat, huge economic interdependence

1. “In the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a direct military and ideological threat to the U.S., and the two countries had almost no economic or social interdependence. “

2.“The U.S. does half a trillion dollars in trade annually with China, not to mention the millions of social interchanges like tourism. China has learned to harness the creativity of markets to authoritarian Communist Party control in ways the Soviets never mastered.”

3. “The U.S. and its allies aren’t threatened by the export of communism — few are taking to the streets in favor of Mr. Xi’s ideology — but by a hybrid system of economic and political interdependence that China can manipulate.”

NB: “More countries count China than the U.S. as their leading trade partner. Partial decoupling on security issues like Huawei is necessary, but total economic decoupling would be costly, and few allies would follow suit.”


1. “But as Henry Kissinger has warned, the appropriate historical metaphor today isn’t 1945 but 1914, when all the great powers expected a short third Balkan war.”

2. “Instead they got a world war that lasted four years and destroyed four empires.”

3. “If China thinks it can coerce Taiwan with a blockade or by taking an offshore island — or there is a ship or aircraft collision that leads to loss of life — all bets are off. If the U.S. reacts by freezing Chinese assets or invoking the Trading with the Enemy Act, the world could slip quickly into a real cold war, or even a hot one.”

NB: “Moreover, with regard to the ecological aspects of interdependence such as climate change and pandemics, the laws of physics and biology make decoupling impossible. No country can solve transnational problems alone.”


In 1977, I taught a section in the introductory course in international relations co-taught by Joe Nye and Stanley Hoffmann, both professors of government at the time. Now called Gov 40 it was then part of Harvard’s new “Core Curriculum” and had the title “Historical Analysis 12” covering the topic of international conflict from ancient Greece to the Arab Israeli War of 1973.

Opinion | Cold War With China Is Avoidable

Joseph Nye

Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate inyour memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.