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La nueva guerra fría es contra China, y se peleará en el Pacífico. Imagen: Unsplash.

The New Cold War Begins with Winter Olympics

The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is a sign that patience with China is running out

[Leer en español]

The new Cold War is on. On December 6, the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing beginning February 4, meaning that no American government officials will attend the competition in an official capacity, in order to protest “against genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” the western Chinese region where the Communist government is resorting to increasingly authoritarian tactics against the Uighurs.

Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, added that the White House wants to send a clear message that human rights abuses in China cannot be considered normal. And the outrage goes far beyond Washington, as within 48 hours Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia announced similar measures, giving shape to the worst diplomatic rift within the Olympics since those boycotts of the 1980s.

It is true that this time, unlike what happened in Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984, the boycotts are merely diplomatic and will not affect the athletes, who will be able to attend their competitions normally. Even so, this is a clear sign of deepening fractures between China and the West, which have entered a new stage, a new Cold War, with Beijing replacing Moscow in the seat of the antagonist.

The origin of the new cold war

For two hundred years, relations between America and China have been complex and marked by a profound contrast of cultural perspectives. Since the mid-19th century, when the United States first accompanied and then displaced British influence in the Eastern giant, China became a source of fascination for American politicians, traders, and missionaries, who at the same time admired that nation and sought to Westernize it.

This fascination reached its peak in the years leading up to World War II, when Washington saw China as the great counterweight to Japanese power and when the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek graced the covers of American magazines. In 1949, came the triumph of the communists and a break in relations that lasted about two decades, until 1972, when Nixon’s visit initiated a new path of negotiation that resulted (in 1979) in the normalization of relations between the two countries.

From that moment on, China entered a new stage of economic opening that allowed it to become the great factory of the world. At the same time, the regime took advantage of the momentum of the free market and globalization to lift 300 million people out of poverty and to build on this success the foundations of its own legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and the whole world.

Well, this stage is over. Since his ascension (in 2012) as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping has pushed for a stricter regime inside China and a more interventionist one outside. Beijing is no longer content to produce cheaply; they want to directly control world markets, weaken domestic opposition and establish a new order. This strategy includes the grotesque repression of opposition movements in Hong Kong and the aforementioned genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Now, despite the fact that the authoritarian and interventionist signs of the Chinese dictatorship have been evident for years, the West had chosen to turn a blind eye, because, after all, China makes them a lot of money; that is how we saw Disney film Mulan in the neighborhood of the concentration camps in Xinjiang, and the infamous statements of LeBron James minimizing the repression in Hong Kong.

It seems that American indolence ran out of steam.

Ante la nueva guerra fría, Biden apuesta por el "soft power" y la democracia como nodo. Imagen: EFE/EPA/TASOS KATOPODIS
In the face of the new cold war, Biden bets on “soft power” and democracy as a node. (EFE)

China, the balance between necessity and enmity

Donald Trump was the first U.S. president to launch a clear strategy to reverse China’s geopolitical advance. His economic sanctions towards Beijing and his rapprochement towards the rest of the allies in the Pacific (including Japan, Taiwan and Australia) made it clear that the United States will not give in silently.

And there were good results. The danger of Beijing’s growing authoritarianism and expansionism made headlines, businesses and governments around the world began to see it as a real danger, and even America dropped China as its main trading partner, with Mexico taking its place.

Then came Covid-19, with all the doubts about its origin. Then came the elections. Trump lost. Biden won, but the substance of China’s policy did not change. With its nuances and differences, there is a bipartisan consensus in America that Beijing’s growing hostility cannot go unnoticed, and that the time has come for the United States to take a much more proactive role in containing the CCP’s imperial delusions.

That is why the Biden administration and Washington’s key geopolitical allies are launching the diplomatic boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The aim is not only to denounce the outrages being committed by Xi Jinping’s dictatorship against the Uyghurs but also to make it clear that the West is aware of China’s expansionist intentions and will not accept them in silence.

In short: if Beijing insists on breaking the balances and agreements (official and tacit) that made possible its transformation into the world’s factory and the axis of globalization, the United States and its allies will confront the Chinese dictatorship. And Washington will not be alone on that road, as evidenced by the participation of a hundred countries in the Summit for Democracy organized by the Biden administration on December 9 and 10.

At the end of the day, it seems that America has understood (by the way, not a moment too soon) what Gordon G. Chang explained a few months ago in an interview with El American: China is more than an adversary or a trade competitor, “it is our enemy.” And that is how it should be understood.

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