Updated: Oct 19
Ying Yao l London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
The New Cold War; An ideological examination of Washington and Beijing’s Exchange of Foreign Policies:
Clash of ideologies: Chinese Exceptionalism VS American Exceptionalism
A new Cold War is unfolding at an exceptional pace between the U.S. and China with increasing hostility coming from the Trump administration. Arguably, the degree of hostility that has been exchanged between the two superpowers in the present is somewhat reminiscent to the hostility that occurred at the Khrushchev and Kennedy’s era. The shared commonality that revived the Cold War in the present lays in the fundamental differences in ideology.
Ideology is important as it informs one’s rationality and reasoning, thus, it presented them with a uniform and universal view that speaks for all rational men. (Howard, 1989) Both countries share the belief that they are truly unique. America stresses Seymour Martin Lipset’s claim of ‘‘the first new nation’’ and the manifested destiny throughout its conduct in foreign policy. China under Xi, particularly, stresses the appeal of China dream and socialism with Chinese characteristics. Exceptionalism, therefore, becomes the ideology that informs both countries’ foreign policy objectives. Chinese Exceptionalism(CE) was birthed to show China’s desire to reclaim its superpower status(Ho,2014), it emphasised on China for having a ‘‘peaceful culture rooted in Confucianism that cherishes harmony and abhors wars.’’(Wang,2015)
The prominence of Chinese exceptionalism that amplifies the pride of Chinese cultural uniqueness provides a ‘‘sociological contours concerning with nationalist sentiment concerning what it now means to be Chinese.’’(Ho, 2015) This defines the outlook of Chinese foreign policy approach as outside-in of thinking(Pan, 2017), exemplified by an extensive focus on domestic security. Fundamentally, it rejects the notion of a zero-sum game as it espouses win-win outcomes at continental and bilateral levels.(Ho, 2014)
By juxtaposition, American Exceptionalism (AE) has a backdrop of missionary that ‘‘insists the American model of development is the best in the world and is universally applicable; other nations should make an effort for Americanisation.’’(Pan, 2017) America often synonymised her security as world security. Under AE, America assumed the position as the protector of liberal democracy with the right to intervene universally. (Cox and Stokes, 2018) This defines American foreign policy approach as an inside-out way of thinking. (Pan, 2017), exemplified by American troops overseas. The differences between American and Chinese exceptionalism resulted in foreign policy denials and rejections from both Washington and Beijing. Inevitably, both countries fall into the abyss of the Thucydides Trap, with America sanctioning China in attempts to decimate its power to preserve the supremacy of American world hegemony.
As such with the advent of the new Cold War unfolding between China and the U.S. leaves consequential remarks on the international community, economically and politically. I will be applying ideological divergences in two foreign policies: the closure of Chinese consulate in Houston, and American sanction against Bytedance.
Applying the ideological clash in contemporary foreign policies
American foreign policies towards China is strongly cast by the pursue of achieving unipolarity as the ultimate goal to weakening the risen China. The year of 2018, the Trade War was declared against China for malpractice of trade. The trend of de-globalisation has thus encroached the 21st century with America withdrawing itself from the WHO during the pandemic of Covid-19. The relationship between the two has hit the lowest point, since January 2020 with the pandemic heavily politically weaponised by America as devices to further sanction China across an array of issues. In June, the UK discontinued its vague engagement with Beijing by denouncing HK National Security Law. The new Cold War is officially on.
Firstly, the abrupt closure of Chinese consulate in Houston was the most belligerent and irrational move that Washington deployed. Though, the timing of consulate closure was not coincidental as it was deployed at the time when Beijing was embroiled with its geopolitical issues with India, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and in the South China Sea. This move was impinging, and it was driven by geopolitical motives that aimed at taxing Beijing’s geopolitical capacity. The response from China was strategic in geopolitical terms; the America Consulate in Sichuan was closed. This has two implications; the American Consulate in Sichuan contains distract power that covers the Southwest region of China including Tibet. Secondly, the changing nature of Chinese foreign policy must be denoted as it has become aligned with Xi’s strong man vision. Thus, the previous foreign policy objective of ‘‘to hide one’s talent and bide one’s time is increasingly eroding. Secondly, the attack on Chinese corporations has become fiercer with Trump threatening to ban TikTok in the U.S. and forcing it to be acquired by the U.S holdings. In the desperate effort to scramble to save TikTok in the U.S., Bytedance agreed to be acquired by Microsoft. Nonetheless, this was again heavily infiltrated by Trump administration and it has the knock-on effects on other Chinese corporations such as TenCent as shortly after that Trump announced the ban on WeChat. The move was detrimental to the U.S. name as the protector of the free market because the degree of government intervention that Trump was involved to force Bytedance to be acquired by Microsoft is suggesting the death of the invisible hand.
Conclusion: Cooperation Over Sanction
In conclusion, the ideological differences between the two superpowers can be difficult to reconcile but it can be compromised for greater economic gains. The latter option was foregone by Trump’s desire for re-election in November. Hostility towards Beijing does not help to cripple the legitimacy of the CCP in the eyes of its citizens; rather it reflected badly upon America; especially, its sanctions against Chinese corporations. Therefore, American sanctions towards China serves to bolster its nationalism that leaves grand remarks on Xi’s political career, and it helps Beijing to increase visibility and responsiveness of its foreign policies; with America harming its economy. In the American eyes, this is a zero-sum game, but so far America does not appear to be in the winner’s position.
Cox, M. and Stoke, D., (2018). US Foreign Policy. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ho, B., (2015). Understanding Chinese Exceptionalism. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 39(3), pp.164-176.
Howard, M., (1989). Ideology and international relations. Review of International Studies, 15(1), pp.1-10.
Pan, Z., (2017). Chinese and American exceptionalism and differences in their strategic thinking. The Chinese Journal of American Studies, 31(2), pp.9-27+5
Wang,Y.,(2014) The Myth of Chinese Exceptionalism : A Historical Perspective on China’s Rise. The Political Economy of the Asia Pacific, pp.51-74. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10/1007/978-3-319-10034-0_3.