Conflicts of the Modern World. Day 2 of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Clubof the Valdai Discussion Club
List of speakers

A session dedicated to the prospects for a new Cold War - this time between the United States and China - opened the second day of the 17th Annual Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club. Moderator Timofei Bordachev, programme director of the Club, suggested that the speakers assess the likelihood of a repeat of the Cold War scenario, given the increasing intensity of rhetoric in recent months and the incomparability of the current situation in the international arena with the ideological confrontation between the United States and the USSR. He suggested paying special attention to the significance of a possible new bipolarity for other players on the global political stage, primarily Russia, India, the EU and ASEAN countries.

No matter what name we use for it, whether Cold War 2.0, the "hot peace" or the rivalry between the great powers, a full-scale confrontation between China and the United States has already begun. This confrontation will be long-term, and there is a consensus on this in the two capitals. Its roots arent ideological (although Washington is trying to paint it as such), but in a shift in the balance of power in favour of Beijing. At the same time, neither the United States nor the PRC have any interest in a military conflict. The most explosive point is Taiwan, where the "red lines" of the sides intersect. Here, maintaining the status quo could be the best option from a security point of view, but whether the two powers have enough self-control for this is an open question. With this remark (and taking into account nuclear deterrence), the confrontation is likely to take place in other spheres - cyberspace, science and economics. Kevin Rudd, President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Prime Minister of Australia, outlined key differences between the US-Soviet standoff in 1940-1980 and the current growing confrontation between the United States and China. In the modern world, the importance of ideological differences between the superpowers and the role of strategic weapons have been weakened, there are no examples of military confrontation between their satellites in the third world countries. Moreover, the countries are linked by deep economic cooperation. At the same time, there is a danger that one of the episodes of insoluble contradictions may provoke a chain of unpredictable consequences and lead to a deep conflict. If the United States fails to defend one of its allies in the region, it will signify the end of American dominance in Asia.

Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University (China), drew attention to the fact that the Taiwan issue remains the key territorial problem in Asia. In his opinion, recent US actions in support of Taipei increase the likelihood of a final secession of the island. At the same time, the other countries in the region do not want a new bipolarity and are seeking to choose the "Singapore model" of strategic cooperation with the United States against the backdrop of close economic cooperation with China.

Third countries will not be able to stand on the side-lines of the Sino-American confrontation. Although they will not have to fit into the rigid bloc system of the Cold War, and the great powers will not wage wars with their hands on their territory, the balance between Washington and Beijing will become increasingly difficult. Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, drew attention to the fact that the possible arrival of Democrats in the White House will change the balance of power in the country, and the US foreign policy will become significantly more ideological and return to the traditional reliance on international institutions and military-political alliances. According to the expert, in such a combination, the role of the United States as a global leader will again become more attractive for the countries of the region. The United States will increasingly rely on its alliances and try to force allies to take concrete actions against the PRC, as is already happening in Europe.

However, the states of the Asia-Pacific region do not see themselves in complete isolation or equidistance from the United States and China. Dino Patti Djalal, founder of the Indonesian Foreign Policy Community, described the modern world as multipolar, but consisting of "a leader and a half". At the same time, the factors of such leadership are significantly different: while America relies on military alliances, economic pressure and liberal values, China does not set the goal of promoting communism at all it acts more pragmatically and relies more on investment and trade. Also, in contrast to the United States, which seeks to act globally, China is not yet ready to take responsibility for global problems or disputes that are far beyond the sphere of its direct interests. In this context, Russia is returning to world politics, including in its dealings with the ASEAN region, but so far mainly in the field of military-technical cooperation. The Non-Aligned Movement, created during the Cold War with a feeling of helplessness, should be replaced by the principle of joining the position of Beijing or Washington on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with national interests. The ASEAN states hope that the interest of the United States and China in the countries of the region will give them leverage over the great powers.

India, which is interested in strategic autonomy, thinks in a similar way. P. S. Raghavan, Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (India), proposed a balance of power formula for his country that could be of interest to other countries in the region. It consists in a departure from the policy of non-alignment, but while maintaining "strategic autonomy," which nevertheless presupposes active interaction with all centres of power simultaneously, depending on a specific area or problem. At the same time, India does not consider it profitable to make plans to dominate in world politics and concentrates only on increasing its attractiveness and competitiveness. When it comes to the prospects for Chinese dominance on land and at sea, Delhi's interests coincide with those of Washington. But India still sees the solution in the creation of a regional order based on cooperation with the participation of Beijing.

Russia is entering the "new cold war" back to back with China, largely because the West has left it no other choice. Viacheslav Nikonov, Chairman of the Committee on Education and Science of the State Duma (lower house) of the Federal Assembly (legislature) of the Russian Federation, said that the Cold War, as well as the US policy of maintaining its dominance by restraining other poles of power, has never ended; the confrontation with the USSR/Russia was merely joined by the rivalry with China. According to the political scientist, the essence of the conflict is related to the fact that the ambitions of the United States significantly exceed its current potential, and the growing capabilities of China make it a favourite target for confrontation. Recent events also show that the image of the United States as a country with the most effective political, economic and social system, including with respect to education and health care, is no longer attractive. As for Russia, America did not leave it with a choice in this situation, directly writing it down in all doctrinal documents as Washington's enemy, together with China. Given such a situation, the limit of military-strategic cooperation with China can only be Russia's desire to balance its interests with other powers in the region, first of all, with India. At the same time, Washington's relative capabilities have noticeably decreased, including economically, in the military sphere, and in terms of soft power, while those of Beijing have increased. Chinese society and institutions are also more stable than American ones. Washington can still inflict significant damage on its opponents (especially in the economic sphere), but in the long-term race, the chances of winning are not on its side.

A special session on the second day of the forum was devoted to the discussion of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and developments of vaccines against it in Russia. The discussion, moderated by Andrey Bystritskiy, was attended by Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Kirill Dmitriev, Chief Executive Officer of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and Rinat Maksyutov, Director General of the VECTOR State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology, part of Rospotrebnadzor. It was noted that in the coming weeks Russia will commence mass production of the vaccine; the third stage of trials is being completed in parallel, which will make it possible to vaccinate about 70% of the population of Russia within 10-12 months. This means that it will fundamentally overcome the disease. The Russian Direct Investment Fund assists Russian developments in international patenting and access to foreign production and distribution markets, thanks to which Russia can play a significant role in the fight against the pandemic around the world. Nevertheless, special attention in the discussion was paid to the conflicting perception of the Russian vaccine in the world media.

In this respect, the unanimous benevolent attitude of the world scientific community contrasts sharply with attempts to discredit the vaccine on the part of certain players in the pharmaceutical market and some Western states.

The evening session of the Club, moderated by Ivan Timofeev, was dedicated to the topic of technological wars. The previous decades were favourable for international scientific and technological interaction, but the situation is changing before our eyes: relative openness is being replaced by mutual suspicion and intense competition. At the same time, the scientific and technological sphere could never develop in isolation, in an interconnected world the exchange of knowledge is necessary. But the race for new technologies is at the centre of the rivalry of big countries, and the possession of them determines the place of each power in the global balance. The experts were asked how such a technological war could be avoided.

James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director or the Technology Policy Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, believes that we are only at the beginning of the world's technological confrontation. If earlier the United States was inspired by scientific and technological cooperation with China, now the issue of so-called “technological sovereignty” is becoming increasingly important, and it is relevant not only for the two largest players, but also for Europe, Russia, India and other countries. This trend will not change after the American elections, as it reflects more fundamental changes in the world of competition for technology. Shailesh Nayak, Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (India), on the contrary, was optimistic and suggested that the serious challenges we all share, such as climate change, would push humanity towards scientific and technological cooperation rather than national isolation.

Tigran Khudaverdyan, Deputy CEO of the Yandex Group of companies, described Russia's position in this matter as ambivalent. On the one hand, we cannot talk about the full-fledged technological sovereignty of our country, but on the other hand, Russia is one of the leaders in the world in terms of its own online services. The expert also noted that since digital technologies are becoming a part of everyday life, the state will increasingly interfere in this area, which, nevertheless, should not be feared, because newfound support may come along with more attention.

Ruslan Yunusov, Chief Executive Officer of the Russian Quantum Centre, and Head of the Project Office on Quantum Technologies at Rosatom State Corporation, recalled his professional experience and said that the world is definitely becoming more and more bipolar in the technology industry, and there is a significant expansion of export controls regarding existing and emerging technology. Moreover, in this case politics begins to dominate science and business, since the world of technology is beginning to increasingly depend on geopolitical realities.