US President Donald Trump has been waging a trade war against President Xi for more than a year. While states around the world feared this battle between the world’s two largest economies would have an unprecedented impact, they did reach a preliminary deal in January. However, the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the China-US divide. Mr Trump has regularly dubbed the disease ‘the Chinese virus’ and Washington has accused the nation of a cover-up that will “go down in history along with Chernobyl”.
Alongside President Xi’s subsequent promise to build up his troops again, there’s a concern it truly could escalate into another war.
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi even said the US is forcing China “to the brink of a new Cold War”.
Back in 1946, Winston Churchill gave his iconic ‘Iron Curtain’ speech which predicted a deepening divide between the democratic West and communist East — a split that eventually led to the Cold War.
During his speech, the former Prime Minister said: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
“Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Donald Trump
Churchill predicted a clash between the West and the East in his Iron Curtain speech from 1946
“Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
Mr Churchill predicted the increasing tensions between the West and the East at a time when the US was still keen to pursue an alliance with post-war China.
His speech took place when the US General George Marshall was trying to lay the foundations for a democracy within China and calm the rival factions of the nationalists and the communists.
The BBC’s Witness History programme from July last year explained the-then US President Harry Truman was concerned when civil war broke out in 1945, and wanted to intervene to make an ally out of the Eastern nation.
The diplomatic mission was initially successful, and General Marshall even discussed the future of an alliance with Mao Zedong — however, this all came to an abrupt end after Mr Churchill’s speech.
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Historian Danial Kurtz Phelan told the BBC that the wartime Prime Minister’s speech was a pivotal moment for China.
He explained: “The communists then said this is a war we can afford to fight because it’s not going to be a peaceful global scene like we were told.”
The truce quickly disintegrated between the nationalists and the communists, with the communist party taking complete control by 1949.
They sided ideologically with the Soviet Union, until they rejected the Soviet’s suggestion of peaceful coexistence with the Western bloc.
Although the Berlin Wall has since fallen as has the Soviet Union, the China-US rivalry has not abated over the years – nor has the ideological battle between capitalism and communism.
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General George Marshall tried to make China an ideal ally for the US by easing the communist-nationalist tensions after WW2
The US-China tensions were initially over trade but have since escalated due to the coronavirus
As CNBC explained this week, both President Trump and President Xi have an incentive to claim the other nation “are they ones to blame for all of our trouble” during the pandemic.
A CNBC reporter added: “Perhaps no president since Richard Nixon has had China play such a central role in his domestic political narrative.”
President Trump has suggested that China has not been transparent when reporting the data, while Beijing replied that it has “persisted in speaking the truth” to “protect the lives and health of the people”.
The US has suffered with 103,000 COVID-19 related deaths while China has only had a reported 4,634.
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China could say this indicates Western democracies have not coped well where communism has managed great difficulties efficiently and effectively.
In a paper for the European Council on Foreign Relations earlier this month, senior fellow Andrew Small explained: “Beijing also appeared to have decided to instrumentalise Europe, at a moment of deep internal strain, in a broad information battle over the supposed inadequacies of western democracy.
“It was not enough to argue that the Chinese Communist Party had succeeded; others had to be seen to fail.”
It appears that Mr Churchill’s theory of the Iron Curtain therefore still stands today, as Eastern communism and Western democracy continue to size one another up.
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Julian Borger wrote in The Guardian earlier this month: “In castigating Beijing for its failure to contain the outbreak, senior Trump administration officials have gone out of their way to portray the crisis as a deadly illustration of the threat that Communist Party rule poses the Chinese people – and the world beyond.
“There are signs that Beijing’s rulers see in the pandemic, and the US-led response to it, a direct challenge to the party’s hold on power.”
Trump has even signalled that he might consider suing China or cancelling some of the US’ debt as reparations.
Isaac Stone Fish, senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Centre on US-China Relations, told The Guardian that cold war-esque attempts of pushing for evolution away from Communism was “coming back into fashion”.
He added: “There is a growing awareness in DC that the Chinese Community party doesn’t serve America’s interest, that it doesn’t serve the interest of many people in China and there’s growing debate about what the US should do about that.”