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Geopolitical cold war with China would be a dangerous mistake, economist Jeffrey Sachs says

American politicians risk making a “dreadful mistake” by escalating tensions with China, economist and bestselling author Jeffrey Sachs told CNBC.

Sachs, a Columbia University professor and director of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, warned that a “geopolitical Cold War” with China would threaten global security in an already tumultuous period marked by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The last Cold War was dangerous enough,” he said. “This one would be even more dangerous. It’s completely misconceived and misguided, but a lot of Americans want to put it to China and think that we run the show, which is a very dangerous view of thinking.” 

Tensions between the world’s two biggest economies have intensified during the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China. In July, the U.S. ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, citing risks to American intellectual property. China retaliated by revoking the license for the U.S. consulate generate in the Chinese city of Chengdu. 

The U.S.-China relationship has been under strain for several years amid a trade war sparked by President Donald Trump and a race to develop key technologies such as 5G wireless networks.

Sachs said attacking China has become a bipartisan strategy for political gain.

“While politics is a game, and a pretty tough one in the U.S., it’s an incredibly dangerous sport also, and to play with the facts and the lies that we’re saying about China right now has consequences,” he said.

Some companies have said they will reevaluate their dependence on Chinese supply chains in the wake of the pandemic. Sachs, author of the new book “The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology and Institutions,” said a movement toward “manufacturing nationalism” was already underway as countries compete in new sectors of the economy such as electric vehicles and renewable energy. 

He urged global leaders to come together on issues like climate change as the economy undergoes a “remarkably choppy period of disruption and transition.”

“If we face [these crises] together, cooperatively, with a sense of decency, we’ll have some pride that the waters were very high and very choppy but we made it through,” he said. “If we face it as each one is on your own, then we’re going to look back with a lot of regret.”

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