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The Return of the Cold War?



As the Russo-Ukrainian war enters its third month, Western countries’ sympathy and support for Ukraine has been increasing, and their awareness of the Russian threat has also been growing. Confrontation between the two camps has been escalating, reflecting a return of the Cold War.

This confrontation has been adversely affecting the world as well. Global production chains have been strained, and poor countries face challenges because of shortages of food supplies and rising prices.

The Russian government has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in view of its military setbacks. In response to the Western countries’ military supplies for Ukraine, Moscow declared that Western transport vehicles would become targets. On April 26, the United States assembled senior defense officials from 40 countries for a meeting in Germany to discuss military aid for Ukraine. This was a large-scale mobilization exercise with significant demonstration effect.

Two days before the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv, and announced the objective of weakening Russia so it could pull out of Ukraine. American media then quoted Western officials indicating that the Biden administration was planning to impose severe military and economic damages on Russia. Apparently, this is a long-term strategy.

The United States and the European Union have been exerting pressure on China in several international meetings recently, warning Beijing against interfering with their sanctions against Russia. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on April 21 declared that the sanctions against Russia would also be applicable to China should it choose to provide “material support” to Russia.

China obviously wishes to avoid sanctions from the Western world. It was reported that China UnionPay had refused to cooperate with Russian banks being sanctioned to offer credit card services. Some Chinese firms, particularly those with international associates, are now beginning to accept Washington’s demands to deliver the required financial data in order to maintain their listings in the U.S. stock exchange, although for most Chinese companies the 2024 deadline is still an ongoing issue. China has so far refrained from providing Russia with direct military aid, thus avoiding confrontation with the Western world.

The Cold War atmosphere is increasingly affecting international organizations. For instance, the exercise of veto by permanent members of UN Security Council members is seen to block progress in resolving important world issues including the Russia-Ukraine war.

The international community is now concerned that the Cold War’s division of blocs of countries and legitimacy of their vetoes may render the United Nations even less effective.

Last month a resolution was decided that would allow a General Assembly debate within 10 working days on any decision blocked by veto power in the Security Council. At the meeting, the Security Council would need to present a report citing the reasons for the veto. Although, considered a mild approach to the problem it may be a small positive step and exert some broader international pressure on the Security Council to agree more often on East versus West matters.

When the U.N. was established, it realized that it had no power to sanction major powers. The League of Nations provided a solid example. Today its members understand the organization’s limitations. The resolution although criticized by Russia, may be a small step in trying to improve the functioning of the Security Council.

In the G-20 financial ministers’ meeting last month, there was no release of a joint declaration because of the members’ differences. Thus, the international community has limited expectations of the G-20 summit in October. Although there may be a wish for the G-20 to replace the G-7 in promoting international cooperation and contributing to global economic development, as it involves a broader spectrum of countries, getting results may also be difficult.  At present, G-20 members like China, India, South Africa and the host Indonesia have no intention of condemning Russia. Their differences with the Western countries will likely mean that no major agreements can be reached.

Many countries do not wish to return of the Cold War. The EU continues to acquire energy from Russia. Some Russian banks still enjoy the use of the SWIFT system. China works hard to avoid Western sanctions. But constructive cooperation is difficult to come by. For example, Indonesia had originally hoped to achieve strong economic recovery through global international cooperation. And amid the pandemic, developed countries had intended to offer assistance to developing countries for mutual benefit.

With the war in Ukraine, however, developed countries will now have less resources for the combat of the pandemic, poverty alleviation and the economic growth of developing countries. The war adversely affects the global production chains, and the international financial, energy and commodity markets.  The price is borne by all countries, but the poor ones suffer the most. The rising food prices is an obvious example.

The impact of the war is not limited to the direct casualties and destruction. Confrontation damages the spirit for international cooperation; zero-sum thinking now dominates the foreign policy of most countries.  The war in Ukraine is not going to end soon, and the struggle between opposing camps will continue and could even escalate. The world will thus pay a heavy price.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Joseph Cheng


Joseph Yu-shek Cheng is a retired professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong. He publishes widely on the political developments in China and Hong Kong, Chinese foreign policy, and development in southern China. He has been an activist serving the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for four decades. In his retirement, he continues to work as a current affairs commentator and columnist. Email: [email protected]

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