Why Russia-Ukraine War Will Not Start Another Cold War
When talking about the international politics after this Russia-Ukraine war, most of the experts and media infer that there will be another Cold War. Political scientists believe the west will be in confrontation against an alliance consisting of Russia and China. Particularly, they predict China will support Russia in terms of economic activities, especially with paths to avoid sanctions. Of course, their allies also include Iran, North Korea etc. This judgment sounds reasonable and practical within the subject of international politics and economics. But if we look into the details of the economy and military forces of Russia and China and also the global political interactions, we will notice that this world does not have the condition for starting another Cold War.
The reason why political scientists predict there will be a Cold War after this Russian invasion of Ukraine is that they are overrating China’s strength (Of course, Chinese “Pinks” (“Fen Hong” in Chinese, which describes some Chinese people who are brainwashed by the anti-democracy, anti-west and pro-war information on Chinese internet. Fen Hongs troll anyone who doesn’t praise authoritarian regimes). From an economic perspective, although China is a giant, it is a “fragile and weak giant”, which is often ignored if we only look at its economic figures. From a political perspective, the motion and momentum of international politics, including the politics in Russia in the future, are not making China another core of the “Eastern Bloc”.
International observers believe Russia can survive with the support of the Chinese Communist Party. The basis of this prediction is based on the huge economic size of China. However, although its GDP and trade are huge, the production per capita of China is just over $10,000, which is similar to that of Russia at the moment. Don’t forget, local governments in China are boosting their local GDP figures mainly by repetitive construction and demolishing of low-quality infrastructures and real-estates, which means the actual GDP per capita of China should be even lower than $10,000. Let’s compare China in 2022 with the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s. The peak of GDP per capita of the USSR was $12,000 ~ 15,000 if converted to the value in 2021. Additionally, China’s economy relies far more on trading with the West compared with the USSR. This economic structure clearly suggests that China will not have the ability demanded to organise a political bloc isolated from the West.
When talking about China, political scientists and economists tend to admire those “Made in China” all over the world and China’s industrial productivity. However, one may ignore a fact: without the engineering software from the US, high-precision devices from Japan and Europe and high-end chemicals from the UK, China is unable to produce anything we can see on international markets. To print and cut newspapers, the printing factories in China have to buy more German machines; as for its first civil aeroplane, the control system and engines were all purchased from the US and France, because the Chinese do not have those advanced technologies. If the US (probably in alliance with Europe and Japan) bans China from buying certain items of their technologies in name of supporting Putin, China will have no strength to support Russia anymore, and itself may slide into the Russian-style economic hell.
In order to acquire the important industrial devices and technologies, the Chinese government has to use USD, EUR, GBP and JPY as the currencies. If China wants to launch a Cold War against the West, the communist party has to 1) equip the domestic industries with all Chinese technologies, so that 2) they do not need USD etc. to buy technologies from the West. Neither 1) nor 2) is feasible or possible for the Chinese government. Therefore, if the communist party decides to rally Putin to start a Cold War against the West (or against all developed countries), it will be drowned by an internal tsunami before launching any attack.
Most of the leaders in the Chinese Communist Party are aware of China’s actual weakness. That’s why they immediately felt embarrassment when Putin started this invasion.
From an international politics perspective, there is no such a condition to form a bloc with solidarity, like the Eastern Bloc led by USSR during the Cold War. From the international reaction of Russia-Ukraine war, we should notice that the number of countries against this invasion is overwhelmingly more than the number of those pro this invasion. Even China had to vote “abstention” in the UN.
However, during 1950–1990, the number of countries in each bloc were about the same, though the Western Bloc had much better economic conditions. Now, the “Eastern Bloc”, if there IS another Cold War, will at most consist of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and probably Venezuela and Syria. Although many countries have tight economic relationships with China, we have witnessed that they are not joining China in terms of political values when showing their attitudes towards the Russian invasion. In addition, as analysed above, China and Russia still sustain their economy relying on interactions with the West. A small handful of countries relying on other countries do not have any strength or ability to stay isolated.
Moreover, the potential upheaval in Russia does not allow a new Cold War either. If Russian troops cannot occupy the whole of Ukraine within two months (which is very likely), the sanctions will cause political commotion inside Russia. Observing the public opinions in Russia about this invasion, we should infer that the majority of the Russian people are very likely to distance China after the war due to China’s positive attitude towards Putin. Suppose Putin was replaced by another statesman, or the government is replaced by a new one, we should be able to imagine this new government will not regard China as a close friend.
Inferring from Russia’s economic condition, it is reasonable to guess that its invasion into Ukraine will not last long, and Putin will not acquire what he wanted at the beginning. However, the alliance among western countries, especially those in Europe and Japan, has been solidified in this war; their stands of political values have been unified as well; Japan and Germany will have boosted military force. As such, after Russia-Ukraine war is ended, they will now retreat to what they used to be. It is very likely that the West will target at China afterwards. They may start new sanctions and military deterrence against China in name of being the accomplice of Putin. As the international media are widely reporting Chinese government’s support to Putin and the pro-war, anti-West information on Chinese internet, it is hard to imagine that China will not be the next object of punishment from the West after Putin backs down.
Governments are increasingly focused on their political stands and national security issues, instead of the economic interests of their companies.
Chinese economists and political scientists believe the developed countries will not punish China with force, because China is still providing important markets for western corporations. But they forget: the logic of the world has changed. Governments are increasingly focused on their political stands and national security issues, instead of the economic interests of their companies. From the reactions from most countries in this war, we can detect this trend. Additionally, China is mainly manufacturing daily consuming products, instead of high-precision devices. This situation indicates China will be sacrificed when developed countries want to guarantee their security.