Escalating Cold War between the Great Powers amid the COVID-19 Crisis


Workers and oppressed must oppose both U.S. and Chinese imperialism!


Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 14.05.2020,




1.             The Cold War between the two largest imperialist powers – the U.S. and China – experiences a new stage of escalation. This is reflected in a number of developments. The Trump Administration has increased its political and diplomatic attacks against Beijing. It is instrumentalizing the pandemic for its anti-China chauvinistic propaganda by designating the Corona Virus SARS-CoV-2 as the “Chinese Virus” or “Wuhan Virus”. It also cut its financial contributions to the WHO, accusing it of being “pro-Chinese”. Washington “does not exclude” that the virus could be a kind of planned aggression by China against the U.S. Trump even compared the COVID-19 crisis with “Pearl Harbor” and “9/11”, i.e. with a foreign military attack. In this spirit, Fox News host Lou Dobbs has called for the US to declare war on China. In addition, Trump and his Republican Party have launched a campaign of demanding financial compensation from China. The US state of Missouri already sued China's leadership over COVID-19, seeking damages over what it described as “deliberate deception and insufficient action to stop the pandemic”. There has been also speculation if the U.S. might try to seize parts of the accumulated U.S. Treasury securities owned by China. (Currently, Beijing owns $1.07 trillion, or about 5%, of the $23 trillion U.S. national debt, which is more than any other foreign country except Japan.)


2.             Likewise, Beijing has started to publicly speculate that the virus might have been brought to China by a U.S. delegate who attended the Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019. A number of Chinese commentators and retired military commanders have called for Beijing to attack and occupy Taiwan, citing the current weakness of the U.S. military due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the retreat of the U.S. strategic bomber fleet from Guam. Beijing has also created two new administrative districts in the South China Sea, against the protest of the Philippines and Vietnam. It also increased the presence of its navy. In early April, a serious incident took place near the Paracel Islands when, according to the Vietnamese foreign ministry, one of its fishing vessel had been rammed and sunk by the Chinese navy.


3.             Hawkish forces both in Washington as well as in Beijing are pushing for the cancellation of the so-called “phase one” trade agreement which both sides concluded on 15 January. This treaty was a kind of truce that temporarily ended the Global Trade War which had started nearly two years before. Furthermore, it is highly noteworthy that commentators both in the U.S. as well as in China are now increasingly discussing the possibility of a major war between the two Great Powers.


4.             The reasons for this escalation are pretty clear. As the RCIT has explained in numerous documents in the past months, we are in the midst of a historic crisis of capitalism. The Third Depression, starting in late 2019, has thrown the capitalist world economy into bedlam similar to the collapse in 1929. As a result, both the U.S. as well as China have experienced their worst economic development since decades. Roughly 33.5 million people in the U.S. have applied for unemployment benefits in early May. Likewise, unemployment in China has increased to unprecedented levels. It is hardly surprising that both governments are increasingly worried about the domestic political situation. The Trump Administration, which has been under fire since its inauguration due to its mix of clownesque behavior, utter incompetence and rabid right-wing chauvinism, faces crucial elections in November. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the political instability. Loosing this election would not only end the Trump presidency but could also open a process of court proceedings for many of his associates. Likewise, the Xi-led Stalinist-capitalist dictatorship fears that the economic crisis could result in social and political unrest, even more so as the half-year long mass protests in Hong Kong in late 2019 seem to have revived in the past weeks.


5.             The RCIT has warned since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis that this will be utilized by the Great Powers as a pretext to drum up chauvinism and to accelerate the inter-imperialist rivalry. Already in our statement of 5 February, we warned: “The ruling classes in China as well as in many other countries exploit the hysteria in order to justify the vast expansion of surveillance and control of its population. They also utilize this hysteria in order to wipe up patriotism and suspicion against “foreigners”, people “from outside” or simple “others”. China’s regime utilizes the hysteria also in order to create a climate of fear so that anxious people put all their hopes in the state forces. The ruling classes in other imperialist states utilize the global hysteria in order to wipe up anti-Chinese chauvinism and to advance their stakes in the ongoing rivalry between the Great Powers.


6.             The current crisis has also opened a new stage in the global relation of forces. It is now becoming evident and visible for the whole world that the U.S. has lost its leading status and that China is seriously challenging its long-time hegemony. The ruling circles in the U.S. are obviously aware of this process and try to reverse it by any means necessary. As we explained in our recently published book “The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution – What It Is and How to Fight It”, the consequences will be a massive acceleration of rivalry and increasing geopolitical instability: “In fact, it seems to us that the future course of development of world politics will be characterized by a lack of any hegemon. The U.S. is no longer capable of putting its mark on world politics. And China (and even less so any other Great Power) is not strong enough to do so. What will be the result of such equilibrium of the Great Powers? It will be a further acceleration of the inter-imperialist rivalry – mainly between the U.S. and China. In fact, we are entering a period which can be characterized as a prelude for World War III.


7.             These developments are a powerful confirmation of the RCIT’s analysis of imperialism in the 21st century. As we have elaborated in several books and pamphlets, capitalism has entered a historic period of decay since the Great Recession in 2008/09. Against the backdrop of this historic crisis, the decline of the long-time absolute hegemon has hastened while new imperialist powers like China and Russia emerged. The result has been an acceleration of the rivalry between the Great Powers, making it a key political feature of the current period.


8.             Does this mean that we expect a major war between the U.S. and China in the near future? We think that this is rather unlikely albeit one can not exclude the possibility of a confrontation which both sides enter “sleepwalking”. However, what is a much more likely is a substantial escalation of the Cold War, resulting in a devastating tariff war and a so-called de-coupling of the two economies. Such a development would create two large imperialist blocs relatively independent of and in constant conflict with each other. Any attempt of the U.S. Administration to seize parts of the Chinese-hold T-Bonds could provoke a major capital flight from the U.S. and a collapse of the global financial and currency order comparable to the 1931 devaluation of UK sterling.


9.             Furthermore, the acceleration of the inter-imperialist rivalry will inevitable increase the military tensions and the arms race between all Great Powers (U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan). It will also result in more proxy wars in the Global South in which local governments fight against each other in the service of their imperialist patrons. It is also not excluded that minor military clashes between the U.S. and Chinese armed forces could take place. Such conflicts could also involve Russia, Japan and India. The South and East China Sea as well as the Indian Ocean are likely areas for such military clashes between the imperialist rivals. Another possible war scenario is a military invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese forces.


10.          It is a major failure of many left-wing forces that they lack any understanding of these developments. This is hardly surprising in the case of the Stalinist and Bolivarian parties as they are undisguised cheerleaders of Russian and Chinese imperialism. Many of them even claim that China would not be a capitalist but rather a “socialist” country! A number of Trotskyist organizations believe that China and Russia are “semi-colonial” or “sub-imperialist” states. Such a misconception opens the door to view these two emerging powers as a somehow “lesser evil” and, hence, siding with them in a conflict with the old imperialist powers U.S., EU or Japan.


11.          The pro-Western social-imperialists are equally bad. U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been hailed by numerous progressive organizations, attacked Trump and Joe Biden for being “too soft on China”. SYRIZA in Greece as well as PODEMOS and the PCE in Spain are examples for “socialist” parties serving EU imperialism as part of coalition governments. Following the Marxist principles as outlined by Lenin and Trotsky, the RCIT strongly condemns any support for one imperialist power against another as social-imperialism, i.e. as pro-imperialist policy under the cover of “socialism”.


12.          The only possible and revolutionary tactic is unconditionally refusing support for any imperialist Great Power. Socialists must denounce all forms of chauvinism (under the cover of COVID-19 or any other). Likewise, they must oppose sanctions and punitive tariffs. Those “progressive” forces which support such chauvinist acts must be unreservedly condemned and their influence within the workers and popular mass organizations must be fought against as they act as social-imperialist lackeys. The RCIT advocates the program of revolutionary defeatism as it has been developed by the Marxist movement. This means that socialists must oppose all Great Powers and act in each imperialist country on the basis of “the main enemy is at home“. They should utilize any conflict in order to weaken and eventually overthrow the ruling class.


13.          In cases of conflicts between one of these Great Powers against a semi-colonial proxy of an imperialist rival, the RCIT also advocates a revolutionary defeatist position on both sides, i.e. refusing to support either of the two camps. A war between China and Taiwan – a long-time proxy of U.S. imperialism – would be an example for such a scenario. A conflict between China and India – as it was already the case at the Sikkim border region in summer 2017 – is another example.


14.          In cases of imperialist wars in semi-colonial countries, the RCIT advocates the defense of the oppressed people and the defeat of the imperialist enemy. Examples for this case are the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan or the Russian aggression in Syria supporting the tyrannical regime of Assad against the popular uprising.


15.          The RCIT calls on organizations and activists around the world to fight for such a revolutionary strategy. We urge all those who share our programmatic principles in the general outline to get into contact with us and to join us in building a Revolutionary World Party!




International Bureau of the RCIT




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We refer reader also to the following documents of the RCIT relevant for this issue:


On the rivalry between the imperialist powers see e.g. our book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019. The book can be read online or downloaded for free here: On the RCIT’s analysis of China and Russia as emerging imperialist powers see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website:


The RCIT’s documents on the Global Trade War have been collected at a special sub-page on our website: see; our fundamental position has been summarized in a programmatic statement “Global Trade War: No to Great Power Jingoism in West and East!” which has been published in 10 languages (in English: The latest article is by Michael Pröbsting: A Temporary Truce … to Prepare for another War. On the Meaning of the “Phase One” Deal for the U.S.-China Cold War, 17 January 2020,


For our analysis of the current crisis we refer to the new book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, April 2020,; see also the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, The RCIT has published several dozen documents on the COVID-19 crisis which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: