- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2019

FULTON, Mo. | Seventy-three years after Winston Churchill visited this small town 100 miles west of St. Louis for less than 24 hours, the residue of his presence still lingers. Black-and-white photographs of the former prime minister’s ride through town in the back of a convertible abound. (Ever the showman, Mr. Churchill made sure that he chomped on a cigar as he passed through the town center.)

Locals still talk about where they — or their parents, or their grandparents — were when Churchill visited. The most prominent marker of his short visit here is the National Churchill Museum, a splendid museum on the grounds of Westminster College, the small liberal arts school where the prime minister gave what was to be a seminal address. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the museum.

The year of Churchill’s visit was 1946 — World War II had just been won and the British visitor was greeted as a hero here. That President Truman joined Churchill for the sojourn is even today treated as an afterthought. Truman, after all, was just another Missourian, and not a particularly popular one in these parts. Churchill’s visit, on the other hand, was a bona fide Big Deal. Thousands thronged the streets to greet him.

It was here in Fulton that Churchill, who had just been turned out of office, delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech, describing the advent of the divided world that would characterize much of the latter half of the 20th century.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow,” he said.

The world looks much different today. The Soviet Union is long gone, and despite the histrionics of many in Washington, Russia is a declining geopolitical power, barely able to influence events in its close neighbors like Ukraine and Belarus, let alone Berlin, Prague, and Vienna. Indeed, Ukraine, Russia’s closest cultural brother, just ousted President Petro Poroshenko, in large part because of his business dealings in Russia.

If there is a new Iron Curtain descending, it is one between the U.S. and China. Beijing’s neighbors increasingly lie in what Churchill might have referred to as the Chinese sphere. Several Southeast Asian countries have borrowed heavily from China to build infrastructure as part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. This has had the effect of making them debtors to Beijing. China, meanwhile, is attempting to exert influence in the democratic politics of its neighbors like South Korea and Taiwan.

China and the United States are far more economically entwined than the U.S. and Soviet Union ever were. Yet there are increasing signs of a deepening rift between the world’s two superpowers. The current trade war between Washington and Beijing is a sign, perhaps, of a more profound split to come.

State Department officials have talked in increasingly apocalyptic terms of a global struggle between the United States and China — and cast the fight in disturbingly racialist terms.

“The Soviet Union and that competition, in a way it was a fight within the Western family,” Kiron Skinner, the State Department’s director for policy planning said at a public forum this week. “[This is] the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

This line, unfortunately, seems to echo Mainland Chinese propaganda that non-Caucasian Confucian societies are somehow unsuited to democracy. Raucous democracies in South Korea and Taiwan give the lie to this noxious propaganda.

On the other hand, Democratic 2020 front-runner Joseph R. Biden has irresponsibly downplayed the threat that China represents. The former vice president has inexplicably been said to possess something called foreign policy “chops.” Yet in a weird bit of nativist pandering, Mr. Biden said this week that “China is not competition for us.” This is a laughably unserious position. China is a cultural, economic, military and political competitor to the United States.

The Soviet system persisted for more than four decades after Churchill’s address here. The prospect for change in China looks, at the moment, to be similarly grim.

Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at eepstein@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.

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