Are Trump and Xi on the brink of a new Cold War?


Beijing (CNN)There is growing realization — and fear — among Chinese officials in Beijing that US President Donald Trump could be serious in his promise to upend the types of bilateral relations they have become accustomed to in the past few decades.

It is a shock for Beijing to realize that reports about an administration-wide policy initiative countering China are more than mere Washington hearsay.
Since June, United States and China’s diplomatic ties have deteriorated rapidly across a range of fronts, not just trade but also military and politics.

It may not be the start of the next Cold War, at least not yet, but relations between the two sides have been plunged into an unprecedented deep chill.

Now Chinese President Xi Jinping may meet with Trump at the annual G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires in November in an effort to broker a solution. Policy experts on both sides worry it may already be too late to find a way back.

“There has been a tidal shift in America in proportions I’ve not seen in my lifetime away from the old notions of engagement,” Orville Schell, director at the New York-based Asia Society’s Center on US-China relations, told CNN.

“I think we’re at the last act where some notion of more cooperative relationship could be rescued.”

The China threat

A year ago, few would have imagined bilateral ties could plummet to such new lows in the world’s most important diplomatic relationship.

In the 1990s and 2000s, people used to look at three Ts — Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen (massacre) as the most contentious topics in US-China relations. While these thorny issues remain, they have faded into background over the years.

Now, as Taiwan reappears on the radar of the White House, two other Ts dominate frosty bilateral ties — Trade and, most importantly, Trump.

In remarks to a Washington think tank last week, US Vice President Mike Pence launched a broad attack on Chinese policies ranging from human rights abuses at home to claims of election meddling in the US.

“As we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States,” Pence said in his speech.
Many observers have compared Pence’s remarks to Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech, and predicted the start of a new Cold War. Both governments have taken pains to brush aside such a notion, at least publicly, with Chinese officials especially highlighting continued intertwined bilateral economic interests despite the trade war.

Days after Pence’s speech, FBI Director Christopher Wray doubled down on the vice president’s comments, saying China posed greater danger to the United States than Russia.
“China in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face,” he said at a US Senate hearing on Wednesday.