Is the new U.S.-China cold war about to slide into a hot war? This is a major concern and core issue in the analysis of the Chinese regime’s direction and the unfolding of strategic international patterns. This article will discuss two points of view.
The CCP’s Two Centennial Goals
The first view holds that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not engage in war easily, but hopes to postpone the decisive China-U.S. battle until 2049.
2020 is the first year of a new cold war between China and the United States, and the situation is changing rapidly. What remains unchanged amidst the ever-changing CCP is that it still adheres to the “Two Centennial” goals. And for the sake of these goals, it insists that it is still in the “period of strategic opportunity.” And since it is still in this particular period, the CCP will not rush into war with the United States.
Of course, the huge gap between China and the United States today is also a background factor for the CCP’s unwillingness to start a war. Back in WWII, Japan had some strength to engage in strategic speculation and attack Pearl Harbor. At present, the CCP’s navy doesn’t even have the ability to attack Pearl Harbor, but that’s not the fundamental reason for its unwillingness to start a war. When the CCP seized power in China, it was much weaker than it is now, but since it had the support of the Soviet Union, it still dared to fight a war with the United States in North Korea. In 1969, the CCP was in a border conflict with the Soviet Union over the Zhenbao (also known as Damansky) Island. These examples show that the CCP’s attempts and determination to fight are the fundamental reasons why the CCP would decide to initiate a war.
Today, the CCP won’t easily engage in a war with the United States because it has greater ambitions and plans: The CCP will defeat the United States in a war in 2049, and communism will dominate the world. This is the essence of the CCP’s “Two Centennial” goals.
In 1997, the work report of the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC) first proposed “Two Centennial” goals, which was reiterated in the 16th, 17th, and 18th NCCPC. Finally, during Party leader Xi Jinping’s second term, he clarified the timetable and road map in the 19th NCCPC in 2017: “On the basis of ‘building a moderately prosperous society in all respects’ and realizing the first Centennial goal by 2021, we must strive for another 15 years, building on a moderately prosperous China by 2035, and strive for another 15 years to build an advanced, modern, socialist nation by 2050.”
Then there is the diplomacy under the guidance of Xi: In pursuing diplomacy, China will stay committed to peace, development, and win-win cooperation … preserve and extend the major “period of strategic opportunity” … to pave the way for achieving the “Two Centennial” goals and fulfilling the Chinese dream of “national renewal.” Indeed, this deceptive strategy has fooled the international community and provided nearly 40 years of opportunity to the CCP’s “reform and opening” until Donald Trump became the U.S. President in 2017.
The Period of ‘Strategic Opportunity’ Is Gone
Starting in 2017, following drastic changes in China’s domestic and international situation, the CCP’s “period of strategic opportunity” has disappeared. The “Two Centennial” goals are destined to become an illusion, and the CCP has already been shaken by storms.
However, the CCP’s nature dictates that it will never voluntarily disperse, give way, or improve itself, but will continue on until it hits a dead end. In order to maintain its power as long as possible, it will show off its “strategic determination,” and keep up the image of being the world’s second largest economic power. Embracing this illusion, it insists on proceeding with the “Two Centennial” goals by delaying the war with the United States as long as possible–to 2049.
The above analysis is based on the CCP’s July 30 Politburo meeting. According to Xinhua News Agency, it was determined at the meeting that: “At present and in the future, the country’s development is still in a period of strategic opportunities, but there are new developments and changes in opportunities and challenges. The world today is undergoing major changes unseen in a century. Peace and development are still the themes of the times. At the same time, the international environment is becoming increasingly complex, and instability and uncertainty are obviously increasing.”
The Politburo will present its work report to the Central Committee during the plenary session, where attendees will also assess the proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–2025) for Social and Economic Development and future targets for 2035, according to Xinhua. This means that there is no strategic decision in place of a war with the United States.
Bluffing Amidst New Developments and Challenges
The second view holds that the CCP has intensified its strategic military confrontation with the United States, with offensive bluffing as a means to prepare for war.
At the July 30 Politburo meeting, while proclaiming that they are “still in a period of strategic opportunities,” but “there are new developments and changes in opportunities and challenges,” what is the implication in terms of the policy?
China’s military expansion has been aggressive during the last decade.
In the 40 years of “reform and opening up,” the CCP’s economy, science, and technology have grown significantly, and the pace of military expansion has been greatly accelerated.
In terms of planning, in 1997, in order to cope with the “Two Centennial” goals, the CCP also proposed the “three-steps forward” for national defense and military modernization: To roughly lay a solid foundation by 2010; to basically achieve mechanization and information technology by 2020; and to realize modernization of its national defense and the military by 2050.
However, at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the CCP shifted the third step to be accomplished by 2035.
Also, military expenditure has drastically increased. Assessments of the CCP’s military expenditures are much higher than the data provided by the regime. But even the official data showed double-digit growth from 2011 to 2015, which were 12.7 percent, 11.2 percent, 10.7 percent, 12.2 percent, and 10.1 percent, respectively. From 2016 to 2019, military expenditures were 7.6 percent, 7 percent, 8.1 percent, and 7.5 percent respectively–higher than China’s GDP growth rate. Even in 2020 with the pandemic raging, there is no target for GDP growth, but the growth rate of military expenditures is still as high as 6.6 percent.
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the CCP’s military expenditures are second only to the United States’, accounting for about 14 percent of total global military expenditures in 2019. China also has the world’s second largest arms industry, which greatly supports and stimulates the CCP’s global ambitions.
The aggressive military expansion and global ambition was also reflected in the CCP’s “New Era” talk. Since the “reform and opening up,” “the principal contradiction” in Chinese society was described as being between “the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production,” according to Xinhua.
However, at the 19th Party Congress, the CCP revised this as: “What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.”
This so-called evolution of “the principal contradiction” implies the inevitability of military expansion and global ambitions.
It is on this basis that the CCP took aggressive actions recently.
Intensified Military Confrontations With the US in 2020
Strategic military confrontations with the United States greatly intensified in 2020.
China expert Cheng Xiaonong summarized three military operations conducted by the CCP this year.
- In February of this year, the CCP’s fleet conducted joint exercises with the Air Force, Rocket Forces, and Strategic Support Forces near Midway Island, a U.S. naval air facility 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) away from the mainland, demonstrating its ability to approach the United States’ combat stance on Pearl Islands.
- After occupying the high seas of the South China Sea, building artificial islands and military bases, the CCP publicly declared that it had transformed the high waters near Vietnam and the Philippines into “massive fortresses” for strategic nuclear submarines that use nuclear warhead intercontinental missiles to attack the United States.
- With the completion of the Beidou-3 global satellite navigation system on July 31, it has vigorously publicized that space war against the United States is ready. The CCP’s international propaganda machine Duowei News stated, “The total completion of the Beidou system also means a substantial increase in China’s military capabilities, as well as the strength of both ‘global war’ and ‘precision war.’”
Cheng considers the first two actions as “totally public challenges to the U.S. military, comparable to the Soviet Union’s 1962 installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba and aimed at the United States.” If the CCP’s navy and strategic nuclear submarines’ challenge is considered the old Cold War against the United States, the CCP’s readiness for space war means the cold war is officially accelerating into space and high-tech competition against the United States in the fast lane.
At this point, I want to mention a fourth military operation: The CCP has strengthened its nuclear armaments and refused to participate in U.S.–Russia–China trilateral arms control negotiations.
According to a report by The National Interest, China is building a device that’s equivalent to America’s Z Machine, a device that reproduces the conditions of a nuclear bomb and generates energy 22 times stronger than the one made in America.
Furthermore, the CCP is speeding up development on its 12,000-kilometer range JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile that is capable of reaching the United States with greater accuracy. The CCP first test-fired the nuclear-capable JL-3 in November 2018 and a third time in December 2019.
In conclusion, although the CCP is currently holding military exercises in multiple maritime areas, escalating its threat of force against Taiwan, and causing the United States to take countermeasures, the probability of the CCP causing even an accidental conflict is very small, let alone engaging in a war with the United States.
Other than the general reasons mentioned above, there are three more specific reasons.
First, the CCP hopes that Trump will lose his re-election. If China and the United States now engage in military frictions, wouldn’t this help the Trump campaign? Therefore, the CCP will exercise self-restraint and is unlikely to fire the first shot.
After the general elections, whether Trump is re-elected or someone else, the CCP will continue to observe. After all, the initiative of the new cold war is in the hands of the United States. The CCP will quietly wait and watch the United States’ moves before making any changes. Rushing into action, such as taking Taiwan by force, is unlikely.
Second, the CCP is well aware of the United States’ will to fight a war and dare not move hastily. After the Korean War, the CCP was a lot less enthusiastic in the Vietnam War. The CCP also learned a lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the United States forced the Soviet Union to retreat. The CCP’s confidence is far less than that of the Soviet Union to compete for hegemony with the United States. The CCP dared to engage in the Zhenbao Island conflict with the Soviet Union, but would not dare to try it against the United States.
Third, the CCP virus (the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19) has hit the United States hard. More Americans have died from the virus, compared to the casualties from 9/11 and the Pearl Harbor attacks. The United States is prepared to hold the CCP accountable for the deaths.
In short, the initiative to start a new cold war is in the hands of the United States, but it is in the hands of the CCP to initiate a hot war. In the current situation, the CCP is far from the point where it would engage in a nuclear war. Therefore, under normal circumstances, the cold war is unlikely to slip into a hot war. Of course, there were many irrational decisions made in the history of the CCP, and that is a different issue.
Wang He holds master’s degrees in law and history, with a focus on the international communist movement. He was a university lecturer and an executive of a large private company in China. He was imprisoned in China twice for his beliefs. Wang lives in North America now and has published commentaries on China’s current affairs and politics since 2017.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.