Cold War 2.0: Can China capitalise as Donald Trump rises, America withdraws from global stage?

When General George C Marshall, who later became the US Secretary of State, devised the Marshall Plan (officially known as the European Recovery Program), it was to help European countries devastated by World War II get back on their feet. The Americans hoped if these countries became prosperous, they stay away from communism and not align themselves with the Soviet Bloc.

The Marshall Plan remained in effect from 1948 to 1951. During that period, the United States gave out US$ 13 billion in aid. This was the beginning of the first Cold war, which seemed to end with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

However, the Cold War didn’t completely cease. US bases in Japan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Korea, Guam and the Philippines assisted in containing Russia and China. The events of the last decade indicates that the world is bracing itself for a second edition of the Cold War.

 Cold War 2.0: Can China capitalise as Donald Trump rises, America withdraws from global stage?

Map showing the Colour Revolution


Starting from Georgia (Rose Revolution) in 2003, the Colour Revolution spread to Ukraine (Orange Revolution) in 2004, Kyrgyzstan (Tulip Revolution) and Lebanon (Cedar Revolution) in 2005. China and Russia have long wanted US troops out of their backyard in Central Asia. Many in Russia say that the Colour Revolution was orchestrated by US-funded Non-Governmental Organisations. Some analysts say that China is suspicious of US intentions because of the latter’s presence in CAR. China feels that USA is trying to contain her. Others s feel that US presence in CAR aims at containing Russia.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a US financial research firm, coined the term “String of Pearls” in its report in 2004. This term explained the way China would use dollar diplomacy to increase her influence in the countries around India. Though the Indian government does not give credence to this term, one can see Chinese footprint increasing in the countries around India.

Map showing Eastward Expansion of Nato

Map showing Eastward Expansion of Nato

It is generally clear that the targets of containment for the West are Russia and China. The map above, shows the Eastward expansion of Nato. Needless to say, this expansion is aimed at Russia, which is fighting back with her interventions in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has restarted the Arctic Patrols suspended after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The strategic exercises by Russia towards the West began in 2013 and continue. This year, the strategic exercise codenamed Zapad-2017 is scheduled to be held in Western Russia. This month, Nato forces have moved into Poland (14 January 2017) and Norway (16 January 2017). This is part of the plan to deploy 3500 additional troops. 2700 troops have been deployed in Poland and 800 troops have been deployed in Norway. This deployment has made Russia feel uncomfortable.

As China’s Comprehensive National Power ( The sum of its Hard Power and Soft Power) started growing, it has become clear that at some point, the US has to contend with her rise — peaceful or not. The relations between the US and China started improving after Mr Kissinger visited China in 1972, a move facilitated by Pakistan. But within seven years of restarting relations with China, the US enacted the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which gave a clear indication that US was apprehensive of China. Though this was during the Cold War era, even in the post-Cold War period the US is making an increased effort to contain China.

In addition to its presence in CAR, the United States is carrying out activities which China construes as a concerted US effort to contain her. For example, the US has good relations and defence cooperation with Mongolia, China’s northern neighbour. As Mongolia is located between Russia and China, it is only natural that her strategic location attracts the US attention. The US has proposed to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) systems in the Republic of Korea, which has evoked a strong reaction from China, which is attempting to maintain the balance of power in the Korean Peninsula by keeping good relations with North Korea.

China is overly sensitive to any incident happening in East and South China Sea. While China has strategic depth on land, it is the East and South China Sea that she is worried about. The US Base in Guam is on the second island chain that China is claiming. Recently, when China tested a DF 26 Missile, the Chinese media reported that it can target Guam. That is a clear indication that the US presence in Guam is playing on China’s mind.

Map showing First and Second Island Chain that China claims

Map showing First and Second Island Chain that China claims


On 12 July, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, ruled in favour of Philippines on the island in the South China Sea. As expected, this verdict drew a very agitated response from China. Though the US and other parties to the South China Sea dispute gave a muted response, Japan exhorted China to adhere to the ruling. Immediately after the verdict, China got Philippines to agree to a bilateral dialogue on the issue. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s adversarial stance with the United States helped the process. Another country that has been the cynosure of USA and China is Vietnam. The US resumed her relations with Vietnam in 1995, two decades after she withdrew troops from Vietnam. Ever since, their bilateral relations have been improving. China has also been trying to improve her relations with Vietnam.

During the January visit of Vietnam Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong to China, Chinese President Xi Jinping described relations between the two countries as “comrades and brothers”. This despite the fact that both countries are locked in a bitter dispute over territory in the South China Sea.  Myanmar has seen increased interactions between her, the US and China. During the Maoist struggle in Nepal, the US was active in that country — which neighbours China. Improvements in the India-US relations are being seen with suspicion by China. Pakistan is a country that sees both China and USA trying to retain their respective influence. The contest for influence in Afghanistan between these two countries is increasing.

With Donald Trump’s ascendance in the United States, international relations have been thrown into a state of flux. The US withdrawal from Trans- Pacific Partnership has opened the door to China, allowing it to move in and occupy its space. Trump’s policy of countering China by receiving a call from Taiwan President is Ms Tsai Ing-wen. His administration’s pronouncements on the South China Sea are all likely to increase the shadow boxing between the countries. The new US administration is also seeking to improve relations with Russia. The New York Times reported on 24 January, 2017 that the Trump administration is preparing executive orders to reduce US funding for United Nations and other organisations and also beginning the process to review some multi-lateral treaties.

While the US has been the principal proponent of Cold War and Cold War 2.0, will the world see China as the proponent of Cold War 3.0? It will be interesting to watch China moving into the space created by withdrawal of United States from some of the multilateral treaties and agreements.

Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 16:49:12 IST