Escalating China-US conflict risks ‘hot war,’ warns Kissinger

The trade dispute between China and the US left both countries ‘in the foothills of a cold war,’ Henry Kissinger told the New Economy Forum in Beijing. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Escalating China-US conflict risks ‘hot war,’ warns Kissinger

  • Former US hawk leads calls for restraint as trade dispute dominates opening day of Beijing New Economy Forum

BEIJING: The increasingly hostile stand-off between the US and China dominated the first day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, with speaker after speaker returning to the possibility that tensions between the two countries could escalate out of control.

Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state and national security adviser, told the forum that the two countries were “in the foothills of a cold war,” and that the situation could be “cataclysmic” if allowed to deteriorate further.

“China and the US are bound to step on each others toes all round the world. If the conflict is allowed to run unconstrained, the outcome could be worse than the wars last century in Europe. The weapons are so much more powerful and sophisticated. The worst-case scenario would be a ‘hot’ war,” he said.

In addition to the greater destructive power of 21st-century weapons, Kissinger highlighted the degree of interdependence between the US and China in the global economy, which contrasted with the almost total isolation of the Soviet Union’s economy in the last “cold war.”

However, he added that the situation had not yet reached a stage of such escalation.

“History does not always repeat itself,” he said.

But he saw some worrying signs in the recent legislation of the US Congress over the continuing turmoil in Hong Kong. “Congress is an institution influenced by domestic considerations and does not understand all the nuances,” Kissinger added.

Earlier the forum had heard from Wang Qishan, China’s vice president, who gave a keynote address that failed to mention the US at all, but contained lots of code words that the Chinese use when they want to obliquely criticize the policies of the Trump administration.

Qishan noted the continued rise of “protectionism, unliateralism and populism,” and warned that “globalization is facing headwinds, and liberalism is under attack,” threatening the prosperity of the global village.

“Between war and peace, there is no doubt that we should chose peace, and this is China’s choice. We reject the zero-sum game of strategy and the cold war mentality,” he said.

The Chinese policy-maker’s line was picked up by Hank Paulson, former US treasury secretary. “It should concern every one of us who cares about the state of the global economy that the positive sum metaphors of healthy economic competition are given away to the zero sum metaphors of military competition,” he said.

“It’s sad to say that the pressures in Beijing and Washington have not lessened in the past year. In fact, they are increasing. If either country tries to force a comprehensive decoupling on third countries, these others simply will not follow. We would risk isolating ourselves, the US and China, from the rest of the world.

“Decoupling in flows of goods will likely continue because the very bad idea of tariffs has been re-legitimated after taking a wallop from the dismal failures of the 1930s,” Paulson added.

Michael Bloomberg, founder of the Bloomberg information and media giant, did not attend the forum. “He made a decision to serve his country,” Paulson said. The former Republican mayor of New York is running as a Democrat in the US
presidential race.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

Updated 14 August 2020

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

  • Project will strengthen bond between two countries who share history of good strategic relations

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), presently under construction at a cost of $46 billion, aims to improve Pakistani infrastructure and deepen the economic and political ties between China and Pakistan.

CPEC is advantageous to Pakistan but also carries substantial economic and strategic benefits for China.

Its importance for China is evident from the fact that it is part of China’s 13th five-year development plan.

CPEC will boost ties between China and Pakistan, which share a history of congenial strategic relations, over a versatile canvass of mutual interest extending over six decades.

In the past 65 years, both countries have developed strong bilateral trade and economic collaboration.

China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in imports and exports. And CPEC is going further to enhance the lucrative economic cooperation between the two countries.

If realized, the plan will be China’s biggest splurge on economic development in another country to date.

Consul Syed Hamzah Saleem Gilani

It aims over 15 years to create an economic corridor between Gwadar Port to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang through the 2,700 km long highway from Kashgar to Gwadar, railway links for freight trains, oil and gas pipelines and an optical fiber link.

The project will create nearly 700,000 new jobs and add up to 2.5 percent to Pakistan’s annual growth rate.

CPEC has undeniable economic and strategic importance for Pakistan and China. It has been called a game-changer for Pakistan because it will link China with markets in Central Asia and South Asia. Presently China is some 13,000 km from the Arabian Gulf with a shipping time of about 45 days.

CPEC will shrink this distance to merely 2,500 km (an 80 percent reduction).

The shipping time will reduce to 10 days (a 78 percent reduction). The bulk of China’s trade is through the narrow sea channel of the Strait of Malacca.

Top security analysts say that in the event of a future war in Asia, the US Navy could block the Strait of Malacca, which would suffocate China’s trade route. CPEC, besides providing an alternate route, will reduce the shipping time from China to Europe.

The largest part of the project would provide electricity to energy-thirsty Pakistan, badly affected by hours of daily scheduled power cuts because of electricity-shortages, based mostly on building new coal-fired power plants.

The plans envisages adding 10,400 megawatts of electricity at a cost of $15.5 billion by 2018. And after 2018 a further 6,600 megawatts, at an additional cost of $18.3 billion, will be added, doubling Pakistan’s current electricity output.

The CPEC brings many benefits for China and Pakistan, but it is also challenged by security-related and political threats.

There are two major sources of threat: Indian involvement, and the separatist rebellion in Baluchistan where the port of Gwadar is situated.

Both dimensions of threat are interconnected because recent arrests of Indian spies by Pakistan reveal that the Indian government is spending a huge amount of money and resources on sabotaging the CPEC project.

Apart from espionage activities, India is also supporting the Baloch rebels. Nevertheless, Pakistan is well-equipped, with adequate security and infrastructure support to effectively deal with such challenges. Operation “Zarb-e-Azb,” which has received international recognition, has flushed out the major chunk of extremists from Pakistan’s soil.

The political side of the project for Pakistan is also not rosy.

It is always difficult to achieve political consensus on an issue. The Kalabagh dam project, for example, which is considered to be extremely important in addressing Pakistan’s water-shortage problems, has been subjected to political controversy and still awaits construction.

Similar formulas are being applied to CPEC. Drums of provincialism are being beaten loudly to make CPEC another Kalabagh dam.

However, this time sanity has prevailed in the political leadership and controversies were nipped in the bud at an early stage. Besides the efforts of political leaders, the contribution of the Army chief should not go unappreciated.

He took a special interest in this project and provided — and ensured for the future — the Pakistan Army’s full support for the mega-economic project.

CPEC has the potential to carry huge economic benefits for the people of Pakistan and the region. According to a recent estimate, CPEC will serve three billion people, nearly half of the global population. Thus a huge economic bloc is about to emerge from this region.

On completion of the CPEC, Pakistan will become a connecting bridge to three engines of growth: China, Central Asia, and South Asia.

It will create many jobs and elevate Pakistan to high growth rates, which will ensure Pakistan’s stability and serve as a deterrent to extremism and violence.

The completion of CPEC is not going to be an easy task because it has attracted international conspiracies, against which it must be protected.

The economic dividends of this project, by connecting all the economies of the region, are going to be so high that once this project is in full-operation even our neighbor India might ultimately join the club for greater economic benefits.


The author is Pakistan’s press counselor in Jeddah