Neither a new cold war nor a new peloponnesian war: The emerging cyber‐narrative competition at the heart of sino‐american relations

Nicholas Ross Smith, Ruairidh John Brown

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


There is much pessimism as to the current state of Sino-American relations, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. Such pessimism has led to some scholars and commentators asserting that the Sino-American relationship is on the cusp of either a new Cold War or, even more alarmingly, something akin to the Peloponnesian War (via a “Thucydides’ Trap”) whereby the United States might take pre-emptive measures against China. This article rejects such analogizing and argues that, due to important technological advancements found at the intersection of the digital and fourth industrial revolutions, most of the real competition in the relationship is now occurring in cyberspace, especially with regards to the aim of asserting narratives of “truth”. Two key narrative battlegrounds that have raged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are examined: “where was the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic?” and “who has had the most successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic?”. This article shows that Sino-American competition in cyberspace over asserting their narratives of truth (related to the COVID-19 pandemic) is fierce and unhinged. Part of what is driving this competition is the challenging domestic settings politicians and officials find themselves in both China and the United States, thus, the competing narratives being asserted by both sides are predominately for domestic audiences. However, given that cyberspace connects states with foreign publics more intimately, the international aspect of this competition is also important and could result in further damage to the already fragile Sino-American relationship. Yet, whether this competition will bleed into the “real world” is far from certain and, because of this, doomsaying via historical analogies should be avoided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-264
Number of pages13
JournalVestnik RUDN. International Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Cyberspace
  • New cold war
  • Sino-american competition
  • Thucydides’ trap

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Development
  • History


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