The Last Thing This Country Needs

Joschka Fischer

The idea of a Cold War II between the West and China has quickly evolved from a misleading analogy into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But contemporary China is nothing like the Soviet Union, and in today’s world, we simply cannot afford another clash of mutually exclusive systems.

BERLIN – This month’s G7 summit seemed to confirm what has long been apparent: The United States and China are entering into a cold war similar to the one between the US and the Soviet Union in the second half of the twentieth century.

The West no longer views China just as a competitor and rival but as a civilizational alternative. Once again, the conflict seems to be about mutually exclusive “systems.” Amid an escalating clash of values and competing claims to global power and leadership, a military confrontation – or at least a new arms race – seems to have become a distinct possibility.

But on closer examination, the Cold War comparison is misleading. The systemic rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union was preceded by one of the most brutal and catastrophic “hot” wars in history, and reflected the frontlines of that conflict.

Though the US and the Soviet Union were the principal victors after the German and Japanese surrenders, they had already been ideological foes before the war. If Hitler’s Germany and imperial Japan had not both sought world domination through military conquest, the US and the Soviet Union never would have been allies. As soon as the war was over, the faceoff between Soviet communism and Western democratic capitalism resumed, their enmity intensified by the brutality of forced Sovietization in Central and Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1948.

At the same time, the dawn of the nuclear age had fundamentally disrupted power politics by making any future war for global hegemony impossible without self-annihilation. Mutual assured destruction kept the superpower confrontation “cold,” even as it threatened all of humankind with nuclear catastrophe. If the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact had not collapsed four decades later, the conflict presumably would have dragged on indefinitely.

The situation between the West and China today is totally different. Though the Communist Party of China calls the country “socialist” to justify its political monopoly, no one takes that label seriously. China does not define its difference from the West according to its position on private property; rather, it simply does and says whatever is necessary to maintain one-party rule. Since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the late 1970s, China has established a hybrid model that accommodates both markets and central planning, and both state and private ownership. The CPC alone stands at the top of this “Market-Leninist” model.

The Chinese system’s hybrid character is what accounts for its success. China is on track to surpass the US both technologically and economically by around 2030 – a feat that the Soviet Union never had a chance of accomplishing at any point in its 70-year history. China’s “Billionaire Socialism” is clearly better equipped to compete with the West than the old Soviet system ever was.

If today’s systemic rivalry isn’t the same as in the Cold War, what should a Cold War II really be about? Is the goal to force China to become more Western and democratic? Or is it simply to contain China’s power and isolate it technologically (or, at a minimum, slow down its ascent)? And if the West were to achieve any of these objectives, what then?

In fact, none of these objectives could ever be satisfied at a reasonable cost for the parties involved. China is home to 1.4 billion people who can see that their historic opportunity for global recognition has come. Given the scale of the Chinese market and the economic interdependencies it engenders, the idea that China can be isolated is absurd.

But perhaps the issue is more about power than economics. Who will be the twenty-first century’s hegemon? By uniting with the rest of the West, can the US really change the historical trajectory of China’s rise and the West’s relative decline? I doubt it. The West’s recognition that China will not become more democratic by dint of its economic development and integration into the global economy is necessary and long past due. Greed kept
that fantasy afloat for far too long.

But I will venture a prediction that the twenty-first century will not primarily be characterized by a return to great-power politics at all, even if that looks where things are headed now. The experience of the pandemic forces us to take a longer and wider view. COVID-19 was a mere prelude to the looming climate crisis, a global challenge that will force the great powers to embrace cooperation for the sake of humankind, regardless of who is “Number One.”

For the first time ever, the pandemic has made “humankind” more than an abstraction, turning that concept into a material field for action. Containing the coronavirus and sparing everyone from the threat of dangerous new variants will require more than eight billion vaccine doses. Assuming that global warming and the overburdening of regional and global ecosystems continue apace, this same global field of action will become the dominant one in the twenty-first century.

In this context, the question of who is on top will be decided not through traditional great-power politics, but by which powers step up to provide the leadership and competence that the situation demands. Unlike in the past, a cold war would hasten, not prevent, mutually assured destruction.

Published on Project Syndicate


The Xiniiang Genocide Allegations Are Unjustified

Jeffrey D. Sachs, William Schabas

US President Joe Biden’s administration has doubled down on the claim that China is mounting a genocide against the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region. But it has offered no proof, and unless it can, the State Department should withdraw the charge and support a UN-based investigation of the situation in Xinjiang.

NEW YORK/LONDON – The US government needlessly escalated its rhetoric against China by claiming that a genocide is being mounted against the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region. Such a grave charge matters, as genocide is rightly considered “the crime of crimes.” Many pundits are now calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, dubbing them the “Genocide Olympics.

The genocide charge was made on the final day of Donald Trump’s administration by then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who made no secret of his belief in lying as a tool of US foreign policy. Now President Joe Biden’s administration has doubled down on Pompeo’s flimsy claim, even though the State Department’s own top lawyers reportedly share our skepticism regarding the charge.

This year’s State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (HRP) follows Pompeo in accusing China of genocide in Xinjiang. Because the HRP never uses the term other than once in the report’s preface and again in the executive summary of the China chapter, readers are left to guess about the evidence. Much of the report deals with issues like freedom of expression, refugee protection, and free elections, which have scant bearing on the genocide charge.

There are credible charges of human rights abuses against Uighurs, but those do not per se constitute genocide. And we must understand the context of the Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang, which had essentially the same motivation as America’s foray into the Middle East and Central Asia after the September 2001 attacks: to stop the terrorism of militant Islamic groups.

As the Hong Kong-based businessman and writer Weijian Shan has recounted, China experienced repeated terrorist attacks in Xinjiang during the same years that America’s flawed response to 9/11 led to repeated US violations of international law and massive bloodshed. Indeed, until late 2020, the US classified the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist group, battled Uighur fighters in Afghanistan, and held many as prisoners. In July 2020, the United Nations noted the presence of thousands of Uighur fighters in Afghanistan and Syria.

The charge of genocide should never be made lightly. Inappropriate use of the term may escalate geopolitical and military tensions and devalue the historical memory of genocides such as the Holocaust, thereby hindering the ability to prevent future genocides. It behooves the US government to make any charge of genocide responsibly, which it has failed to do here.

Genocide is defined under international law by the UN Genocide Convention (1948). Subsequent judicial decisions have clarified its meaning. Most countries, including the United States, have incorporated the Convention’s definition into their domestic legislation without any significant alteration. In the past few decades, the leading UN courts have confirmed that the definition requires proof to a very high standard of the intentional physical destruction of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

The definition specifies that one of five acts must be perpetrated. Obviously, killing tops the list. The State Department’s report on China says there were “numerous reports” of killings, but that “few or no details were available,” and cites only one case – that of a Uighur man detained since 2017 who died of natural causes, according to the authorities. The report doesn’t even explain why the official explanation should be questioned.
Technically, genocide can be proven even without evidence that people were killed. But because courts require proof of intent to destroy the group physically, it is hard to make the case in the absence of proof of large-scale killings. This is especially true when there is no direct evidence of genocidal intent, for example in the form of policy statements, but merely circumstantial evidence, what international courts refer to as a “pattern of conduct.

International courts have repeatedly said that where genocide charges are based only upon inferences drawn from a pattern of conduct, alternative explanations must be ruled out definitively. That’s why the International Court of Justice rejected in 2015 the genocide charge against Serbia and the counter- charge against Croatia, despite evidence of brutal ethnic cleansing in Croatia.

So, what else might constitute evidence of genocide in China? The State Department report refers to mass internment of perhaps one million Uighurs. If proven, that would constitute a gross violation of human rights; but, again, it is not evidence, per se, of intent to exterminate.

Another of the five recognized acts of genocide is “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” The State Department report refers to China’s notoriously aggressive birth-control policies. Until recently, China strictly enforced its one-child policy on the majority of its population but was more liberal toward ethnic minorities, including the Uighur.

Today, the one-child policy is no longer applied to the majority Han Chinese, but stricter measures have been imposed on Xinjiang’s Muslim minority, whose families are traditionally larger than China’s average. Still, Xinjiang records a positive overall population growth rate, with the Uighur population growing faster than the non-Uighur population in Xinjiang during 2010-18.

The genocide charge is being fueled by “studies” like the Newlines Institute report that recently made global headlines. Newlines is described as a “non-partisan” Washington, DC-based think tank. On closer inspection, it appears to be a project of a tiny Virginia-based university with 153 students, eight full-time faculty, and an apparently conservative policy agenda. Other leading human rights organizations have refrained from using the term.

UN experts are rightly calling for the UN to investigate the situation in Xinjiang. China’s government, for its part, has recently stated that it would welcome a UN mission to Xinjiang based on “exchanges and cooperation,” not on “guilty before proven.”

Unless the State Department can substantiate the genocide accusation, it should withdraw the charge. It should also support a UN-led investigation of the situation in Xinjiang. The work of the UN, and notably of UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, is essential to promote the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Published on Project Syndicate

Social Science Research Publication: Homophily & Career Mobility in China



Congratulations to Sonja Opper, Victor Nee, and Stefan Brehm for their recent publication “Homophily in the career mobility of China’s political elite” in Social Science Research.

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  • The first paper to explore the role of homophily in political elite recruitment in China.
  • The first paper to show that homophily constitutes a significant factor in promotion of leaders to the top echelon of China’s ruling elite.
  • The study shows, homophily works independently of factional ties and economic performance.
  • The effect of homophily is even more decisive in the sub-sample of turnover candidates.


We argue that leadership promotion in China’s political elite relies on homophily for signals of trustworthiness and future cooperative behavior more than on economic performance. We first point to the limitation of the economic performance argument from within the framework of China’s specific M-form state structure, and then we proffer a sociological explanation for why higher-level elites in China rely on homophilous associations in recruiting middle-level elites to the top positions of state. Using a unique dataset covering China’s provincial leaders from 1979 to 2011, we develop a homophily index focusing on joint origin, joint education and joint work experience. We trace personal similarities in these respects between provincial leaders and members of China’s supreme decision-making body, the Politbureau’s Standing Committee. We then provide robust evidence confirming the persisting impact of homophilous associations on promotion patterns in post-reform China.

About Journal

Social Science Research publishes papers devoted to quantitative social science research and methodology. The journal features articles that illustrate the use of quantitative methods to empirically test social science theory. The journal emphasizes research concerned with issues or methods that cut across traditional disciplinary lines. Special attention is given to methods that have been used by only one particular social science discipline, but that may have application to a broader range of areas with an ultimate goal of testing social science theory.

The Making of New York City’s Tech Economy


The high-tech digital economy has firmly established its position as a key driver of economic growth, one where small start-up tech firms are vital drivers of innovation and regional economic development. Open access to technological knowledge and an increasingly educated labor pool—with expertise in data engineering and communication technologies—have dramatically lowered the entry barriers to the high-tech digital economy. As a result, success-factors of tech start-ups have changed over time. Whereas the success of Silicon Valley was based on the technological edge of highly educated and closely connected engineers and computer scientists, new start-up entrepreneurs in this sector today emphasize the more important role of existing industry ties and the tailor-made application of their new technologies. As a consequence, high-tech development depends increasingly on close links with other industries, to develop and exploit novel and innovative applications. For example, EdTech and FinTech companies are currently at the forefront of this development.

The comparative advantage of metropolitan areas relies increasingly on entrepreneurs founding small-scale digital information and high-tech start-ups, providing essential services and tools for a rapidly changing knowledge based economic development. Not only do the IT and digital industries emerge as a new powerful sector, but also contribute to the development of new networks of innovation—which in turn help to revolutionize established industries. The proposed project, therefore, aims to explain the relationship between entrepreneurial activities and the emergence of high-tech clusters in the New York City metropolitan region.

Studying such phenomenon close to its emergence is of utmost importance, and leads to deeper understanding of the factors that produce successful entrepreneurship and growth in high-tech clusters. At the turn of the new century, relatively few tech start-ups were located in New York City (NYC). Silicon Valley, New England, LA/Orange County, San Diego and even upstate New York far outstripped the New York metropolitan area in tech start-ups. From 2007 to 2011, however, high tech start-ups in NYC grew by 32% during a severe economic recession when other regions experienced sharp declines in venture capital investments. The rate of founding of tech start-ups in NYC more than tripled over the last decade, making the metropolitan area the fastest growing knowledge-based economy in the United States.

The rapid growth of the high-tech economy in NYC cannot be explained by overall economic growth, especially given that the NYC financial industry was the epicenter of the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. Why did New York City, particularly Manhattan, experience such explosive growth in high tech start-ups at the outset of a major economic downturn?

Our Approach

Our interdisciplinary approach—including teams of sociologists and economists—focuses analytic attention on institutions in the making of a knowledge-based regional economy. In explaining the rise of regional centers of knowledge-based economic development, our approach explores the institutional drivers of successful entrepreneurial activity. We plan to conduct basic research on knowledge-based economic development near to the timing of emergence, with a focus on the social mechanisms and institutional processes enabling and promoting this new wave of entrepreneurship.

Preliminary research has shown significant evidence of cluster formation in the concentration of tech start-up firms in lower Manhattan.  This pattern of cluster formation is consistent with the view that dense networks of like-minded actors and norms of reciprocity are important causal factors in the emergence of trust and cooperation, which we hypothesize enables and guides the emergence of NYC’s tech start-up economy.

Broader Implications

The proposed study is novel because it aims to examine the dynamics of the emergence of spatially concentrated entrepreneurial activity and rapid growth in the founding of tech start-up firms in the New York City metropolitan area.

Project findings will be disseminated through progress reports, and will be provided to all individuals taking part in the study—including NYC entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, venture capitalists, angel investors, and local administrative agencies, etc. Additionally, we plan to submit academic publications to the leading peer-reviewed journals and to Harvard University Press.

Project Support

We are pleased to support research spearheaded by Cornell’s CSES examining the technology sector in cities like New York. In New York City, the growing technology sector continues to diversify and strengthen the City’s economy, creating jobs across a spectrum of related industries and generating critical economic activity and opportunities at all levels throughout the five boroughs. This exciting body of work has the potential to inform policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders looking to encourage the growth of tech clusters in cities around the world by suggesting potential strategies and best practices. We look forward to our continued partnership with Professor Nee and CSES, and eagerly await the results of this promising research project.

-NYC Economic Development Corporation

NY Tech Meetup is pleased to support the research examining the growth of New York’s technology sector being conducted by Cornell’s CSES. We have been part of the New York technology ecosystem for the past decade, during which time we have witnessed tremendous growth in the tech community as a whole and in our own organization. We believe that research of this type is key to informing and influencing policy and future growth in a way that benefits all of New York’s citizens. We look forward to continuing to work with Cornell and Professor Nee on this project.

-NY Tech Meetup

We, at ERA, think the project being conducted by Cornell’s Center for the Study of Economy and Society would be helpful for NYC and we look forward to the research findings and how these findings can be leveraged to improve NY’s start-up ecosystem further by attracting capital, human and technical resources in to the city.

-Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator

We are delighted to see CSES’s commitment to understanding the organic development of the technology industry in New York.  We believe this market is in an extraordinary period of creativity and collegiality.  We are fortunate to have been a part of this community from the beginning and proud to be associated with so many great entrepreneurs, innovators, co-investors management teams, and now academic researchers.

-RRE Ventures

We think this project has the potential to provide a lot of insight into the growth and success of the NY tech community. We are really excited to see the data and hear the conclusions the team at the Center for the Study of Economy and Society draws from it.”

-Gotham Ventures

General Assembly’s history is deeply intertwined with other New York city startups, the city of New York and the growing needs of a knowledge-based economy. Our mission to build a community of individuals empowered to pursue the work they love has been fueled in part by the growth of the NYC tech ecosystem. This research has the potential to inform the future growth of NYC and other major economic centers. We’re delighted to participate and see the conclusions that the CSES team draws from their work.

-General Assembly

Lecture Series

CSES Director Victor Nee Wins the George R. Terry Book Award

Victor Nee, the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Professor at Cornell University and Director of the Center for the Study of Economy and Society, has received one of the highest scholarly honors that the Academy of Management can bestow on a scholar: the 2013 George R. Terry Book Award. The Terry Book Award was given to Victor Nee and Sonja Opper for their ground breaking book Capitalism from Below: Markets and Institutional Change in China.

The George R. Terry Book Award is granted annually to the book judged to have made the most outstanding contribution to the advancement of management knowledge and published during the past two years (2012-2013). The Academy of Management is an international association with over 19,000 members. The award was presented at its recent annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Capitalism from Below: Markets and Institutional Change in China asks the big question: how does one account for the emergence of a thriving private enterprise economy in a communist state that until 35 years ago vigorously suppressed capitalism? Nee and Opper provide an insightful analysis of how private enterprise bubbled up from below to overcome impediments set up by the Chinese government and drive the engine of China’s economic miracle. Studying over 700 manufacturing firms in the Yangzi region, the book argues that through trial and error, entrepreneurs devised institutional innovations that enabled them to decouple from the established economic order to start up and grow small, private manufacturing firms. Barriers to entry motivated them to build their own networks of suppliers and distributors, and to develop competitive advantage in self-organized industrial clusters. Close-knit groups of like-minded people participated in the emergence of private enterprise by offering financing and establishing reliable business norms. This rapidly growing private enterprise economy diffused throughout the coastal regions of China and, passing through a series of tipping points, eroded the market share of state-owned firms. Only after this fledgling economy emerged as a dynamic engine of economic growth, wealth creation, and manufacturing jobs did the political elite legitimize it as a way to jump-start China’s market society. Today, this private enterprise economy is one of the greatest success stories in the history of capitalism.

Nee is the author or editor of five other books, including On Capitalism by Stanford University Press 2007, The Economic Sociology of Capitalism by Princeton University Press 2005, Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and the New Immigration by Harvard University Press 2003, and The New Institutionalism in Sociology by Harvard University Press 1998.

citation engraving
“[T]he challenge is to specify and explicate the social mechanisms determining the relationship between the informal social organization of close-knit groups and the formal rules of institutional structures.”— Victor Nee