As Hong Kong continues to be subsumed into the Chinese state and foreign companies and governments bow to pressure from Xi Jinping, Donald Forbes writes that the threat posed by China now eclipses that of the Soviet Union mid-Cold War. 

The Cuban missile crisis did not end the cold war but it established that a nuclear war between Russia and the United States was unlikely. Under pressure, the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD) worked. The Cold War continued but at a less volatile level and ended when the arms race bankrupted the Soviet Union. This scenario is unlikely to be the climax of the rivalry between the US and China which has a dynamic economy and is entrenched in the West in ways the Soviet Union never was.

China does not hide its ambition to dominate the world and is a much stronger challenger to the West and its liberal values. There is no guarantee that it will not ultimately prove irresistible. The West is pervaded by pessimism while we agonise over race, the environment and gender.

While the communism of the later Soviet Union was a shell, China with its successful blend of communist autocracy and capitalism, is economically powerful, technologically advanced and highly industrialised. Because it has the vastness of the Atlantic on one side and Pacific on the other, The US is remote from its protectorates even in a globalised world. China on the other hand is an overwhelming presence on the doorstep of neighbours like South Korea, Japan and Australia who count on US protection.

China is aggressive, expansionist, ruthless finely focused on self-interest and dangerous. There is no George Kennan to devise a containment strategy or a Henry Kissinger to manage it. Hong Kong is being relentlessly sucked into Beijing's maw and there's nothing we can do about it. The recovery of Taiwan is more problematic but always on the to-do list. China sets the rules and they are non-negotiable. In response to China's attack on human rights in the US, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken blinked as it were and invited the UN to investigate the "scourge of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia" in the US. There need be no doubt as to what the findings of the UN, that dubious collection of non-democracies, will be.

What makes the threat from China the more galling is that the West has been eagerly complicit in enabling its rise to superpower status. Its biggest corporations such as Apple are heavily invested in China, turning over their technological secrets on the way, and as a result are dependent on the Chinese Communist Party for their survival.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

If Xi ever judged that he no longer needed the Western businesses the communists allowed into China, he could send them packing tomorrow and bear the cost. How many iPhones would Apple sell to the world if it had to make them at American labour rates against competition from cheaper Chinese products of similar quality? The West is accustomed to buying Chinese electronics and trainers. The CEO of Nike, which we thought was typically American, said it was a Chinese company in China and therefore unmoored from its US origins.

But it was a shock to discover, as a result of Covid, that the West was also reliant on pharmaceutical products manufactured in China. Trainers one can do without. Medicines are different. The more one learns, the more it seems the West has ceded control of essential levers of independence to the doubtful goodwill of the CCP. It would be prudent to repatriate some of this against the day when Xi turns nasty in ways that we cannot tolerate such as, for example, by attacking Taiwan not by invasion but by air including nuclear missiles. Would the US honour its commitments to Taiwan or look the other way as it did over Hungary and Czechoslovakia?

The Russians feared nuclear war. But if the US got into a missile exchange with China, more Chinese might be left standing than Americans. Is Taiwan worth it?

There are other ways that the West is voluntarily slipping its head into the Chinese noose. As far as we know, Chinese society is stable and unified. Whether this is under compulsion or not doesn't matter. Western societies are fraying and fissile by comparison.

Hollywood allows China to censor its films, evangelising Confucius institutes are embedded in universities and schools, Google and Facebook are banned in China but are constantly knocking at the door to be let back in against whatever censorship Beijing might demand. It seems there is no pill so bitter that we won't swallow to make money.

What is in store for us politically in the 2030s when green deadlines have elapsed? The US and Europe will enforce the reduction of carbon emissions by banning petrol and diesel engined cars in favour of costly, inefficient EVs and making the supply of electricity potentially unstable. It will be an electro-shock.

China's autocracy means it will be unaffected by any destabilising socio-political resistance to this that might arise in the West.

17 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy