Summary of “The Real Origins of the U.S.-China Cold War”

As tensions between Beijing and Washington harden, there is a growing fear that China and the United States are entering a new cold war-another multi-decade struggle to shape the international system.
Historical scholarship on the breakdown of U.S.-Soviet relations after World War II addresses such questions as which side was most responsible, whether confrontation between Moscow and Washington was inevitable, the role of ideology and perception, and the significance of individual leaders in bringing on what U.S. President John F. Kennedy would call the “Long twilight struggle.” These debates also provide a useful framework for thinking about how the United States and China got to the present impasse, and where Washington should go from here.
As the political scientist Andrew Scobell has written, it was the resulting perception of American weakness and accommodation-not a perception of increased hostility-that constituted the background to increased Chinese pressure in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and other areas.
There is no debating that China has become more ambitious, aggressive, and authoritarian under Xi. At home, he has cracked down on dissidents, strengthened political controls, transformed China into an increasingly high-tech police state, and replaced collective leadership with personalized rule.
The promulgation of the nine-dash line in the South China Sea, the intensified pressure against Japan in the East China Sea, and other facets of Chinese assertiveness all predate Xi, even if they have intensified and accelerated under him.
A third school of thought-which corresponds to Cold War post-revisionism-is that shifting power dynamics and the nature of international affairs have driven the United States and China to rivalry.
The growth of Chinese power-particularly Chinese military power-was initially driven in part by concerns that the United States might make Beijing its primary adversary with the Cold War over.
Post-revisionists contributed to the debate on Cold War origins by pointing out that it was simply hard to see how the United States and the Soviet Union-two powerful, ambitious countries with conflicting interests and visions of security-could have indefinitely gotten along after World War II. Something similar could be said about U.S.-China relations today.

The orginal article.