During the Cold War when the world was roughly divided into two rival blocs, many small countries faced the ruination of dictatorship, invasion and intervention, whether by the Soviets or the Americans. In the 21st century, as we are facing the prospect of Cold War 2.0, small countries may have an easier time, fingers crossed. If nothing else, while Washington may still consider the military option as preferable, Beijing favours development and trade over war and intervention. This has forced the United States and its allies to take the approach of trade and economic aid much more seriously. Some of their own policymakers and pundits have warned against any overtly militaristic or dominating approach to counter Chinese influence when it comes to dealing with small developing countries. For example, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has advised the West to offer better and more development-friendly proposals to Pacific Island nations, rather than a “stern moral lecture”. He is, without doubt, thinking about the hysterical reactions of Canberra and Washington to a security pact signed between China and the Solomon Islands, which will be followed by an economic cooperation deal. Last week, neighbour Fiji announced it would become the first country in the South Pacific to join the Washington-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which deliberately excludes China. But in his latest eight-nation trip to the region, Foreign Minister Wang Yi has picked up a bilateral agreement with Samoa to enhance “greater collaboration” in economic and security engagement. This rivalry, which is at times almost comical, is being repeated across Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. While Washington and its allies have warned against Chinese “debt traps”, Beijing has cautioned small nations against Western neo-imperialism and domination. They may well be right about each other. Of course, the leaderships of small countries are not stupid. They know what’s what and ought to be able to play both sides to force concessions which they couldn’t have obtained on their own, due to their lack of influence and power on the international stage. So long as they can avoid economic coercion and military takeovers, they are perfectly right to make the two superpowers fight over them. Think of the great powers now being forced into a beauty contest to attract the interest and favours of the judges, who are the long-neglected small and developing countries.