On March 5 1946, in a landmark address in the United States, Winston Churchill said an “Iron Curtain has descended” on Europe, referring to the Soviet Union’s authoritarian control of satellite regimes in Eastern Europe creating a divide with Western powers.
That speech signalled the start of the Cold War between the US and the USSR that ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the democratic revolution in Eastern Europe.
The Soviet aggression of that era is being mirrored by China today. Two weeks ago, in recognising the new Cold War between the US and China, I pointed to global concerns over Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea, its erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, its threat to Taiwan and its claim over the Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan since the 19th century.
We also have China’s plan to obliterate the Uyghur Muslims in its north-western region of Xinjiang. “Genocide”, says the US which placed sanctions on companies allegedly involved. Now, for the first time since the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square when Chinese president Deng Xiaoping sent tanks and troops that killed several thousand pro-democracy protesters, western governments are taking co-ordinated action against human rights abuses in China. This is the direct result of renewed American leadership of the western world and its re-embrace of multilateralism under US president Joe Biden. The European Union (EU), United Kingdom and Canada recently joined Washington to freeze assets and impose travel bans on four Chinese officials allegedly involved in the persecution of Uyghurs. “We have a moral duty to respond to this horrific barbarism” says UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The move by the EU is particularly striking. Three months ago, Brussels was celebrating a trade and investment deal with China, notwithstanding US misgivings. But after Donald Trump’s damage, Joe Biden improved relations with Europe, re-establishing a US-EU dialogue for “meshing” policies on China, and addressing a summit of EU leaders last week. In joining the US sanctions on China, Europe has signalled it will not be non-aligned in this Cold War, that democratic values, including freedom of religion and recognition of human rights, are more important than capitalising on business opportunities with China.
The West is increasingly standing up to China. Weeks ago, G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the US and an EU representative, condemned China’s “fundamental erosion” of democracy in Hong Kong, pointing to Beijing’s national security law after pro-democracy protests last year; and China’s new suppressive measures for the Hong Kong legislature including a vetting process for politicians and reducing the number of democratically elected seats. “A direct attack” on the autonomy China promised to Hong Kong, says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Dominic Raab terms it a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the 1997 handover to China based on “One Country, Two Systems”, political pluralism and basic fundamental human rights and freedoms. “That promise now lies in tatters,” says Johnny Patterson, policy director of Hong Kong Watch.
Then there is Taiwan which Beijing claims as sovereign territory. One day after Washington and Taipei agreed to intensify co-operation between their coast guards, 20 Chinese warplanes flew into Taiwan’s defence zone, Beijing’s biggest incursion into the island’s air space thus far. Taiwanese national security officials are concerned that as China’s nationalist ideologue President Xi Zinping enters his third term next year, he could be preparing to seize control of Taiwan to achieve reunification and “cement his legacy”. Observers also look at 2027, the centenary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army when Xi could “feel compelled” to make a move on Taiwan. Washington has begun to prepare for this, reports the Financial Times.
Things are indeed getting warm. Russia recalled its Washington ambassador after Biden agreed Putin is a “killer”, while its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, called for Beijing and Moscow to “push back against US power”. Antony Blinken, meeting with NATO, wants western unity against China’s militarism and Russian “aggression”, declaring “unwavering” US support for Ukraine as Moscow moved tanks into Crimea, escalating tensions. Australia, with US support, is now fast tracking production of hypersonic missiles and other guided weapons to counter China in the Indo Pacific. And recently, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) involving the US, Japan, India and Australia held its first-ever summit of leaders to check China’s aggression in that region.
I have said countries must be aware of the new global environment and act accordingly. President Biden has now invited two Caribbean prime ministers, Jamaica’s Andrew Holness and Antigua and Barbuda’s Gaston Browne, to be among 40 world leaders at his “Climate Summit” on April 22 and 23. Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister, present chairman of Caricom, was not invited. Very striking! Is it because of a virtual meeting Rowley had with Xi Jinping after which the Chinese President internationally “expressed appreciation for Trinidad and Tobago’s support to China’s legitimate positions over Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan”? And which we haven’t categorically denied? We must tread carefully. The new Cold War is already producing heat!