Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
May 28, 2022
Today’s world is already in turmoil, even the risk of a catastrophic nuclear war is on the table. Managing global peace takes disciplined diplomacy with a seasoned professional team. Self-proclaimed “foreign affairs expert” could get us all into big trouble.
There is no winner in any kind of war, hot or cold. The Ukraine war is already causing global food shortage, even a full-scale global recession is almost inevitable. US is shocked by the loss of 21 lives in Texas and politicians vowed to “do something about it.” While it is difficult to determine how many human lives have already lost in Ukraine, but it is estimated that tens of thousands of lives have been mimed. Dead bodies are piling up every day, somehow no one is earnestly working on a cease fire.
Biden’s comments on defending Taiwan have generated controversy, the US lost creditability around the world: how can anyone take the US seriously as the President has often been rebuked by his staff? We should be tough, but we also have to be consistent. US is free to pursue the policy best for the US, but it is critical that President Biden be directly engaged with President Xi “to pursue a diplomatic solution to our differences with China!” Secretary Blinken stated at “The Administration’s Approach the People’s Republic of China” that the US does not pursue a new “cold war” with China. Blinken also repeated that “the US does not support Taiwan independence.” But the US does not show any effort to encourage peaceful reproachments between Beijing and Taipei. Instead, US is acting like a biased referee in settling any cross-strait disputes. It is dangerous!
Anyone suggests that US should attempt to fight a two-front war challenging Russia and China at the same time, two major nuclear power along with the US, is asking for the end of human civilization. West’s hardline against Russia for invading Ukraine and demanding China and other nations to sanction Russia has backfired. China is being openly labeled by the US as the biggest threat, if China were to join the west in completely defeating Russia on the ground of Ukraine now, China would naturally be the next target for the west to demolish. No one is so naïve. In contrast, China and Russia are enhancing their alliance so that they can survive the pressure of US led coalition. Biden convened the QUAD leaders’ summit in Tokyo, he also initiated the IPEF: China is not welcome. More so, it is clear that US policy focus is containing China. But US and China have to engage with each other at all levels starting from the top.
MAY 27, 2022
Q: “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” (CBS News)
A: “Yes.” (President Joe Biden, May 23, 2022)
Q: “ You are?” (CBS)
A: “That’s the commitment we made.” (President Biden)
Once again, an unplanned and impromptu remark from President Biden has generated controversy, although this represents his third (incorrect) reference to a commitment to defend Taiwan. Each time, Biden’s national security team has tried to walk back the president’s remarks, but the fact of the matter is that the United States is pursuing a policy of confrontation and containment with China. There has been no attempt to pursue a diplomatic solution to our differences with China or to give Chinese leader Xi Jinping reason to believe that Sino-American relations could be improved through pursuit of a serious diplomatic dialogue.
It wasn’t difficult to assess China in the past because Beijing has had to deal with a hostile Soviet presence along a long international border since WWII, which required extensive military deployments and resources. This is no longer the case. While Biden was in Japan last week, Russia and China conducted a major exercise in the Pacific, flying strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea. The joint exercise demonstrates the success that Beijing and Moscow are having in coordinating military policy against the interests of the United States.
The United States was particularly fortunate that, despite its full-scale warfare against North Vietnam in the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet dispute provided the Johnson and Nixon administration with a free hand in Southeast Asia. The dispute led to a bloody confrontation along the Amur and Ussuri rivers in 1969. The Johnson administration was slow to understand the nature and intensity of the Sino-Soviet dispute, but the Nixon administration moved adroitly to ensure that Washington would have better relations with both Beijing and Moscow than the two leading communist powers had with each other.
The triangular diplomacy of President Richard Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger paid major dividends, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union as well as improved bilateral relations with China that led to full-scale diplomatic recognition in the administration of Jimmy Carter. The Watergate crisis, the Nixon resignation, the inexperience of Gerald Ford, and the hubris of Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski kept the United States from exploiting the initial successes of the strategic triangle between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.
The United States was similarly fortunate regarding its bilateral relations with both the Soviet Union and China as a result of leadership changes in Moscow and Beijing. In 1979, China radically changed course under Deng Xiaoping, who pursued economic reform and a non-ideological foreign policy. Deng wanted China to “hide its strength, and bide its time.” In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev emerged as the Soviet leader, and he was determined to pursue economic reform (perestroika) and greater scrutiny of previous Kremlin policy (glasnost). He wanted an improved relationship with the United States, and used arms control and disarmament to ensure a durable detente. The Chernobyl crisis in 1986 afforded an opportunity to purge the military, and to create a national security team oriented toward improved relations with the West. Now, the United States must deal with the extreme nationalism and anti-Americanism of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
We are eighteen months into the Biden administration, and the flawed policy of Donald Trump toward China is still in place. The policy of confrontation and containment risks the ratcheting up of military and economic pressure on China. Editorial columns in the Washington Post and the New York Times favor this hard-line policy, calling for greater defense spending to enable a “faster modernization and rearmament of the U.S. military.” Presumably Pentagon strategists are already preparing budget requests that are oriented to a “two-front war,” which drove U.S. spending to record levels in the 1980s right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The notion that the United States could succeed in battling both Russia and China at the same time is particularly ludicrous.
Last week, an oped in the Post argued that “should China decide to wage war with the United States today, it would do so with modern weaponry purchased with U.S. money and often built with U.S.-designed technology.” The idea that China would “decide to wage war with the United States” is particularly obtuse. The belief that the policy of containment that worked against a weak Soviet Union will have favorable results with a strengthened China is an illusion.
Biden’s declaration to defend Taiwan if China attacked may have gone too far, but the formation of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a thirteen-nation pact that excluded China, didn’t go far enough. The Framework is no substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated by the Obama administration and abandoned by the Trump administration. Unlike the Framework, the Partnership involved economic engagement with East Asia, India, and Australia. The Framework is not a trade deal; it doesn’t open new markets.
Biden’s decision to maintain tariffs on Chinese imports has divided his national security team, with Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo arguing that removing some of the tariffs would offset rising prices. Daleep Singh, a deputy national security adviser, has argued that the Biden administration inherited the tariffs from the Trump administration and that the tariffs “serve no strategic purpose.” Thus far, the hardliners on China, particularly National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai, have convinced Biden that the tariffs provide leverage for the United States vis-a-vis China. According to Harvard Professor Jason Furman, “tariff reduction is the single biggest tool the administration has” in fighting inflation.
Unfortunately, no one in the Biden administration seems to be making the case that the policy of decoupling the United States from ties to China and trying to take on both Russia and China will be hugely expensive in terms of resources and appropriations. Biden’s approach will require huge expenditures for both air and naval platforms, leaving inadequate resources for domestic requirements, particularly for infrastructure and the climate challenge. In his first months, Biden emphasized there would be a review of our global military presence. But he gave this task to the Pentagon, which recommended no withdrawal or reductions. Indeed, the most substantial change was to improve airfields in the Asia-Pacific regions; increase personnel in Germany; and bolster French counter-terrorism efforts in Africa.
It is unfortunate that Biden has put together a national security team that has nothing new to alter the stalemated situations that Donald Trump left behind regarding policy toward China, Iran, and North Korea. Defense spending continues to climb; new initiatives regarding arms control and disarmament are nowhere to be found; and military deployments continue to rise. Defense analysts are already arguing for an expanded military presence in the Baltic States and key East European states such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Their call is for permanent basing of U.S. units in order to institutionalize a front-line force posture.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.