We’re not supposed to call today’s competition between the United States and China a new Cold War.

That makes some sense — the historical parallels are inexact — but elements of the current U.S.-China relationship sure look like that earlier time, and they aren’t the good parts. Both governments see the world in terms of a struggle, reflecting both ideological and geopolitical interests, that is total — meaning the stakes could be existential. As a result, both are committed to policies that intensify suspicions and magnify distrust.

Unlike the Cold War, however, the primary arena of competition is not military. More worrying, unlike the Cold War, there are as yet no mechanisms in place to dampen those fires. We can only hope that sense prevails before a crisis makes this competition truly existential.