Jeffrey Sachs, leading economist, author and former director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University as well as Zhang Weiwei, professor of international relations at Fudan University, translator and author, held a panel discussion at an online event for the No Cold War campaign last week.
Both experts on international relations explored the potential of the ongoing diplomatic row between the world's largest economies as several Chinese tech companies such as Huawei, ByteDance, Tencent and SMIC have been targeted by Washington in a bid to block Beijing's rise as a global power, among other questions.
China Refuses to Export Political, Economic Systems in 'Zero-Sum' Game With US - Professor Zhang
The new Cold War against China was against the interests of humanity amid threats such as climate change, economic recession and other challenges, Prof Zhang said in opening comments.
Such tensions could lead to a Thucydides Trap, where a "rising power threatens to displace a ruling power" resulting in war, he said, citing a keynote speech by Harvard professor Graham Allison.Cold War advocates in the West had portrayed China as a new Soviet Union "exporting its political ideology and economic system around the world", as well as a "one-party dictatorship" with a "deteriorating" human rights record, Zhang said.
Zhang, a former translator to paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, said China's political and cultural traditions differed from the US, leading Cold War attempts to "end up in failure".
He added that Washington's "zero-sum game" policy echoed former US president George W Bush's strategy of "You're either with us, or against us" used to rally support from allies in the War on Terror.
"I think that Donald Trump needs to take a crash course on international trade with Jeffrey Sachs," Zhang said, citing the US trade deficit with China.
He explained that China's foreign policy did not divide nations into "friend or foe", but "friend or potential friend" and Beijing held a more long-term, inclusive mindset with a "win-win" strategy.
"To be honest, the United States thinks its political system is great. Please stay with it. We do not envy you. To be honest, I personally think the US today needs urgent political reform and other reforms, perhaps more than many other countries. On this, China may offer advice. We claim to be the experts on reform, because we carry out reforms each and every day, every month, every year, to improve everything in China. That’s the reason why China’s advancing so fast," he said.
Challenges in the US such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, racial divide as well as constitutional crises ahead of the November election cycle could see "America First" become "America Last," he warned.
The US fought two major hot wars with Beijing in recent decades, namely in Korean and Vietnam, which "ended in failure" and should not "make the same mistake again", he told the audience.
The US risked "imperial overstretch" with high military expenses and endless wars, he said, citing British historian Paul Kennedy, adding Washington should also save resources and restrain itself while improving its "debilitated" infrastructure.
"Let’s work together and reject categorically the notion of the Cold War, which was based on the mutually assured destruction (MAD). Let’s embrace the notion of mutually assured prosperity, or MAP, or perhaps, globally assured prosperity (GAP), he concluded.
US Cold War Product of Evangelical Vision of American Hegemony - Sachs
Mr Sachs opened his speech by stating that he hoped President Trump would leave the White House "no later than" 20 January next year and that the US needed fresh leadership.
Washington's trade policy was in the "hands of a very few people", namely via executive decree with little public debate, he explained, adding such measures required open discussion and dialogue due to their complexity.
Two elements had contributed to US hegemonic thinking such as its historically "Protestant evangelical vision" of manifest destiny, where leaders believed in providential right to dominate North America and later, the world, he explained.
Such vision had governed US foreign policy for over 70 years, namely in the fight to contain Soviet Communism, but China's rise had challenged the belief and created "elite anxiety" in Washington, Sachs said. US secretary of State Mike Pompeo's "dangerous" crusade against China facilitated this amid his campaign across Asia to seek allies against China.
"We are, in my opinion, in the end of the American dominance period, which is a mechanical implication of the declining share of the US in the world economy and other dimensions of global economics, finance, geopolitics, and technology in 1950s in ways that are no longer today, and China’s rise over the last 40 years is the most important geopolitical event that has changed this," he told the audience.
No single country would lead the next geopolitical era, but would cooperate on multilateral platforms, he said, adding that forming competitive political blocs would be a "profound mistake and simplification" of complexities faced to date.
Such power blocs would be a "kind of insanity" and invitation to mutual destruction rather than solving problems, he warned.
A new global leadership would be a "multilateral, rule-based world where we can gain the benefits of cooperation", he explained, but cautioned it would be difficult to achieve cooperation.
Mr Sachs, who is also a senior advisor to the United Nations, urged the US to follow international multilateral agreements such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement.
President Xi had pledged China to meet to net zero emissions by 2060 and was set to host the COP26 biodiversity conference in Kunming next year to remain a key player in international multilateral issues, he said.
Sachs also criticised Trump for his Twitter diplomacy strategy, stating it would be an advance of multilateralism.
"One should never do foreign policy by Twitter. It’s insane to try to put complex issues into 140 characters, and it could blow up the world by misunderstandings," he said.
China's rise in security technologies had triggered the ongoing trade war, but the new technologies in AI, autonomous battlefields and cyberwarfare required diplomatic negotiated frameworks similar to nuclear weapons treaties, he said.
"The biggest risk is people who know nothing having power, because when they do, they can blow us all up, but when we have the connections, the knowledge, the in-depth discussions, the institutional and cultural connections, we will not only survive, we will thrive," he concluded.