Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
February 14, 2022
The reality is that US, China, and Russia dominate the world. A classical wining strategy to maintain an advantage is making a team of two parties against the third party. As of now, the Biden is taking the opposite approach by challenging Russia and China at the same time. (The attached news reports makes many good points.)
It could be that the US has not realized that the world order has fundamentally changed after the global financial crisis. Before that crisis, the US maintained a unique leadership position around the world because US uniquely commended the economic resources and military power. Even during the US-Soviet Union cold war era, the US was an undisputed global leader with economic might along with superior military strength over Soviet Union. While the US enjoyed the global leadership, it initiated endless wars around the world that sapped US morality as well as her global standing. In the meantime, US domestic division flared up, partisan politics becomes bitterly divided.
Biden administration inherited a very bad hand from Trump last year. Biden is still very much burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation in the US. However, Biden’s foreign policy agenda is uncompromisingly strong headed. Biden claims that the US is back to the global stage, but he also claims the US is still the global leader.
As a result, Biden is aimed to re-build the global order with the US as the sole leader. This unipolar approach is in contrast with the reality, where China and Russia are dealing with each other as peers. It is not a question whether the US is capable fighting two wars at the same time, rather why the US should join any foreign war at all? The US with her almighty strength, could be an effective peace broker!
Now it seems that the US would be involved in bloody military actions in Europe, and at the same time fighting a bitter trade war with China.
The following report brings a startling revelation that “the Russia-China alliance grows stronger” but because Biden’s foreign policy is reentering the world stage without a focus rather than the “U.S. retreats from world stage.”
Even if Biden is “retreating from the world stage,” he is facing a very tough mid-term election could easily render him a lame-duck president after Nov. 2, 2022
Some specific comments on the attached news reports.
“democracy backsliding globally” is a fact but who is responsible for the backsliding? Who should take the responsibility to stop the backsliding?
But America’s continued struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the false belief of many Republicans in Trump’s baseless claim that he won has only deepened these theories of declinism abroad.
A US engagement policy with China would set a different tone, one that would amount to a new triangular diplomacy designed to incentivize a China move away from Russia.
Alexander Smith, ABC News Mon, February 14, 2022, 8:56 AM
One defied diplomatic boycotts over its human rights record and welcomed the world to its first Winter Olympics. The other massed troops on its neighbor’s border and issued demands to the United States and its allies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin stood side by side during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4. Their joint appearance not only delivered the most forthright display of Sino-Russian unity for decades, but also what observers saw as the clearest signal yet that the two are intent on shaping a new world order — one in which America’s postwar global dominance is in retreat and autocratic regimes can thrive in the space left behind.
“They see this as a post-Trump world where the Americans pulled out of Afghanistan in disarray, they don’t seem to be able to deter the Russians and they can’t even manage Covid,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London. “So it may not be totally stupid and wrong if they say that ‘the East is rising and the West is declining.’”
With democracy backsliding globally, the resolve of Russia and China has been particularly strengthened by the perceived U.S. retreat from the global stage and the erosion of its own values at home, he said. This has created a void, in the eyes of some in Beijing and Moscow, into which the two countries are only too happy to step.
That idea is not entirely new.
Since at least 2008, government officials and intellectual elites in China and Russia have been predicting or advocating the end of America’s postwar dominance. But a 5,000-word joint statement was the first time these countries have together spelled out their vision so comprehensively for this “multipolar” future.
“A trend has emerged towards redistribution of power in the world,” the statement said. This “new era” will “ensure peace, stability and sustainable development,” it added, rather than the “power politics” and “bullying” of U.S. supremacy where “the weak fall prey to the strong.”
Crucially, the end of American dominance would stop the West from trying to “interfere in the internal affairs of other states, infringing their legitimate rights and interests,” the statement said, repeating a long-standing complaint used to push back against Western calls for democratic, legal and economic reforms.
Without naming names, the message was clear: Washington does not have the might or the right to act as the world’s police.
For China, this would mean less criticism over alleged human rights abuses against its Uyghur Muslim minority, which the U.S. and others say is being subjected to cultural genocide, its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, and its threats to invade Taiwan, all of which China denies.
Russia wants to hush criticism of its meddling in other countries’ elections, its invasion of neighbors, such as Georgia and Ukraine, and its silencing of political opposition and freedom of speech at home, all of which it also denies.
The extent of American decline has been debated for years within Chinese circles of power, said Kingsley Edney, who teaches politics and Chinese international relations at the University of Leeds in England. Articulating it so strongly last week is “maybe a sign and this is something that’s becoming more of a consensus view within the establishment,” he said.
Indeed, the rise of the East and the decline of the West have become a common refrain for Xi and his top officials — and not without evidence. China is projected to become the world’s largest economy this decade and is building the equivalent of the French navy every four years, German and French officials have said.
The same cannot be said for Russia, which, though punching above its weight thanks to its large gas reserves and nuclear arsenal, is still a midsize economic power whose gross domestic product is smaller than that of Italy. But in China, it now has a powerful partner which last week fell in behind several of its demands, including effectively barring Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
Beijing is also now Moscow’s largest trading partner, with nearly $150 billion of imports and exports last year.
Some academics believe the world has already moved on from being “unipolar” in which Washington’s dominance was built on what it likes to call the “the rules-based order.” That system of values is predicated, in theory at least, on democracy, human rights and international free trade.
In reality, America has often contradicted these ideals, from its own history of slavery and segregation to funding right-wing regime change in Latin America. But it’s only relatively recently that foreign powers have seriously questioned its economic, cultural and military supremacy.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, some thinkers believed that the Western liberal model had prevailed for good: Democracy had won a global victory and it was only a matter of time before the authoritarians of the world fell in line.
“It gave the United States the ability and the possibility to do whatever it saw fit on the world stage,” Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign policy analyst who heads a body that advises the Kremlin, wrote last year. “There were no external restraints left.”
Fast forward 30 years — through financial crises, several heavily criticized U.S.-led invasions and administrations that departed from many foreign policy norms — and Washington’s place in the world looks quite different.
In 16 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in spring 2021, on average just 17 percent of people said the U.S. was a good model for democracy, and 57 percent said it used to be.
International faith in the Western model took a hit following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the financial crisis of 2008. But Donald Trump’s election dismayed long-standing allies and shocked enemies in a way few previous events had done, particularly his criticism of the very institutions on which postwar American power had been built, and his promotion of the conspiracy theory that he won the 2020 presidential election, which he lost.
President Joe Biden was seen by many as a relief. But America’s continued struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the false belief of many Republicans in Trump’s baseless claim that he won has only deepened these theories of declinism abroad.
It’s unclear what the Sino-Russian partnership means for this standoff on the fringes of Europe. China backed Russia’s demand that Ukraine should never join NATO, but experts believe it would not want a war because of its trading links to Kyiv.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday an invasion by Russia could begin “any day now,” something Moscow has always denied despite its massive troop buildup.
With tensions at an all-time high and Russia holding military drills in the nearby Black Sea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Putin on Monday and suggested that the Kremlin should continue its diplomatic route with the U.S. and its allies. The Kremlin also said Putin has approved his latest response in the back-and-forth with the U.S. over Moscow’s sweeping security demands, which would reshape the post-Cold War landscape in Europe.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday relations between Moscow and Washington were “on the floor” despite a call between Biden and Putin on Saturday.
Russia shifting so much military resource to its European flank is a sign of how comfortable it feels leaving its east side relatively undefended, according to Michael Kofman, the research program director in the Russia Studies Program at CNA, a Washington-area think tank.
Many experts say it’s also a mistake to link the Ukraine crisis with Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province and has threatened to invade. Taiwan is far more important to the U.S. than Ukraine both in terms of trade and strategically, so it shouldn’t be seen through the same foreign policy lens.
But Tsang at SOAS University says it’s certain that officials in Beijing will be closely watching the Western response to Ukraine. Though Washington and its European allies have stressed they are all on the same page, there have been hints of division, with Germany in particular favoring a more moderate approach toward the Kremlin.
“If the Western democratic response over Ukraine is in complete disarray,” he said, “then it is not unreasonable for the Chinese to assume that it would also be a shambles over Taiwan.”
BY MEL GURTOV FEBRUARY 10, 2022
Reports out of Washington suggest worry over a Russia-China partnership that would facilitate Vladimir Putin’s presumed ambition to absorb Ukraine and undermine the NATO-based European security system. So let’s examine that relationship to assess the US concern.
Aligned But Not Allied
When it comes to support of China on international issues, from human rights to Taiwan, Beijing can always count on Putin’s Russia. And the reverse is generally true. In numerous meetings since Xi and Putin became top leaders, the China-Russia relationship has consistently been described in the most exalted terms. They’re “dear friends,” they have “the best [relations] in history,” they are “a model of interstate cooperation in the 21st century.” China-Russia trade has risen substantially every year; China is Russia’s most important trade partner. Joint military maneuvers have become a regular event. Symbolizing their closeness, Putin is attending the Beijing Winter Olympics, defying the US call for a diplomatic boycott of the games.
China and Russia are aligned with one another in viewing the United States as their principal opponent and chief obstacle to the achievement of their respective aims in Asia and Europe. But theirs is a marriage of convenience, not a security alliance. They are divided by many issues, including a history of conflicting national interests and ideological differences, unresolved territorial claims, and the large gap between them in economy and technology.
While US analyses typically lump China and Russia together as threats to US national security, they are actually far apart in their international conduct. Unlike Russia, China has taken full advantage of globalization—in everything from contributions to UN peacekeeping and tourism to scholarly and scientific exchanges and overseas investments, notably with the US. Thomas Christensen reports:
“a former Chinese diplomat stationed in Russia, Shi Ze, who summed up the difference between Moscow and Beijing this way: ‘China and Russia have different attitudes. Russia wants to break the current international order….Russia thinks it is the victim of the current international system, in which its economy and its society do not develop. But China benefits from the current international system. We want to improve and modify it, not to break it.’”
While Russia relies heavily on military power to impose its will in its near abroad, China mainly projects its influence through soft power: the Belt-and-Road Initiative, Confucius Institutes, sporting events, radio and television programming, and money-backed public diplomacy.
The Putin-Xi Meeting in Beijing
Putin’s visit to China at the height of the crisis over Ukraine prompted comparisons between Russian and Chinese diplomacy over, respectively, Ukraine and Taiwan. On the surface, Russian and Chinese views seem similar. Putin and Xi commonly believe those territories cannot be considered independent states, historically and culturally belong to the mother country, and are only prevented from being absorbed because of foreign interference. Yet they know full well that populations in Ukraine and Taiwan reject absorption. Both leaders seem to take the issue personally, seeing the recovery of Ukraine and Taiwan as fitting testimony to their legacy as a great leader.
But there the similarities end. Putin sees Ukraine as a security threat because of NATO’s eastward expansion and has deployed forces along Ukraine’s border sufficient to take over the country. His ultimate goal, many observers believe, is to reconstruct the European security order.
In contrast, Xi has so far abided by the goal of peaceful unification of Taiwan. China has displayed its military capabilities in the Taiwan area, but has not threatened Taiwan with attack or asserted that Taiwan poses a threat to the mainland. Nor has China sought to arouse a pro-China force inside Taiwan or demanded that the US alliance system in Asia be dismantled.
China’s policy on the Ukraine crisis only seems to entail guarded support of Russia. Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the United States to take a “balanced” approach that would embrace Russia’s “reasonable security concerns.” The final Putin-Xi text on their talks—at least the Chinese version—reflected that view. Yes, they agreed that the relationship has “no limits,” but it surely does. Ukraine is not mentioned at all, the text merely saying: “The two sides oppose continual expansion of NATO, and call for NATO to reject the ideology of the cold war, and respect other countries’ sovereignty, security, interests, and multicultures.”
Tellingly, the lengthy statement devoted far more space to cooperation on sustainable development (which is part of the statement’s title), the pandemic, trade, human rights, and arms control, as well as to a whole range of common threats from the US and the West.
Keep in mind that although China did support Russia’s recent interventions in Kazakhstan and Belarus to quell potential regime changes, it did not support Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. Maintaining a common front with Russia against the West’s incursions means much more to Beijing than encouraging a Russian territorial grab, whose economic and political consequences would reach far beyond Europe.
A war, even if only economic, would further alienate China from both Europe and the United States, harm China’s economy (as the Biden administration warned), and perhaps show Xi’s “peaceful unification” policy on Taiwan in a bad light. China would surely help Russia escape the worst effects of US and European Union sanctions, but buying Russian goods has limits. It’s also worth noting that China has a lucrative economic relationship with Ukraine: Its weapons factories are highly regarded in China, and China is Ukraine’s most important export market.
Thus, China prefers a diplomatic resolution over Ukraine. But it is not about to press for one at the behest of the State Department, which reportedly requested China’s help. A US engagement policy with China would set a different tone, one that would amount to a new triangular diplomacy designed to incentivize a China move away from Russia.
But in any case, the United States should stop conflating China with Russia; their mutual admiration conceals more than it reveals.
Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.