20.10.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the Latest US Maneuvering around the PRC and Russia

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The process of rethinking the place and role of the United States in today’s rapidly changing world launched back in the second half of the previous decade seems to be accelerating sharply. The most recent evidence of this is David T. Pyne’s much-discussed article in The National Interest with the telling headline “America Cannot Take On China And Russia Simultaneously”, in which the keyword is undoubtedly “simultaneously.” There’s no discussion of the imprerative to “take on” those countries, and the article seems to discuss the most optimal strategy on this path chosen by the USA. This is already a noticeable progress in Washington’s political thinking, as until recently there has been discussions of the possibility of simultaneous fighting against with China and Russia, and prevailing in this fight (apparently, against the two?).

Thus, “the Washington team is on the right track.” It is quite possible that further on, there will be doubts about the necessity of the “fight,” which will lead to the (unimaginable today) idea of the possibility to coordinate efforts of the leading global actors to solve the aggravating global problems.

However, there are some hints of that in this article as well. In particular, the new version of the “Yalta Conference” and the possibility of the US withdrawal from NATO is evoked. Admittedly, the latter is presented as some favor to both major opponents, who in return must refrain from the further reciprocal rapprochement.

Of course, this raises some questions. For example, why should anyone pay back the world’s leading power for taking a burden off its shoulders (which has been pointless for a long time) in the form of NATO? Which is only needed today to make the (totally impudent) small Eastern European slicksters feel at ease? Well, that’s not highly likely to happen.

Secondly, why is developing cooperation between China and Russia (as neighbors) perceived as a source of specific threats at all? The USA is cooperating with its neighbors Canada and Mexico after all.

But, again, the above article shows the right direction of transformation in US foreign policy thinking. And we can assume that the recent increase in US contacts at various levels with both China and Russia indicates specific, realistic changes in approaches to solving the same problem of finding a new format for Washington’s positioning in the new world.

As for the PRC, we shall point to a phone conversation between the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Biden held on September 9 at the initiative of the latter one. The noteworthy fact is that such contacts had not taken place since February of this year when Xi Jinping congratulated his American colleague (perhaps he was the last of the world’s leaders to do so) in a brief telephone conversation on the inauguration to the highest office in the United States. The new US Ambassador to Beijing (Nicholas Burns) was nominated only at the end of August this year, i.e., after a ten-month break from the end of the previous one’s term.

For a long time, there was uncertainty about the possibility of a direct meeting between Joe Biden with the Chinese leader, like the one that took place in Geneva between the Russian and American Presidents. This matter remained at the core of the negotiations between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and the equally responsible China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi which took place on October 6 in Zurich. According to the Chinese Global Times, the potential “video summit” between the leaders of both countries was also discussed.

The main area in the system of US-China relations that could serve as a stimulus for maintaining at least some positive momentum is both countries’ bilateral trade and economic cooperation. American businessmen demonstrate the greatest interest in its further development. They were behind the so-called “Phase 1 Agreement” signed in January 2020. The expansion of its positive potential is advocated by the new (since May 6) United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, daughter of Chinese immigrants who lived both in mainland China and Taiwan.

Taiwan remains practically the main threat to the prospect of that optimistic picture. In the continuing negative trend of the Taiwan issue, noteworthy events are connected with the commemoration of the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, held in China and Taiwan (on October 10). In particular, Xi Jinping’s and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s speeches were noticeable but deserved separate consideration.

It should also be noted that the recently observed US diplomatic activity in the Chinese direction has been accompanied by no lesser activity in relations with Russia. In this regard, some remarks may be relevant.

First, the use of a diplomatic tool is clearly reinforced by a military demonstration. For example, the announcement of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s arrival in Moscow was accompanied by information about another approach of two B-52 strategic bombers to the Russian airspace. Similar bombers and other military aircraft of the US Air Force and US Navy ships appear (with much higher frequency) in the air and sea space of the South China Sea and the area of Taiwan.

In general, such a strategy of US behavior in the international arena corresponds to the principle repeatedly stated by President Joe Biden that his administration will emphasize diplomacy, nonetheless backed by military force. This is a well-known principle from ancient times. In its “a kind word and a gun” version it was popular among the US citizens who constantly had some problem with the country’s law enforcement agencies.

Secondly, the sharply increasing diplomatic activity of the United States has been directed at its two primary geopolitical opponents, i.e., the PRC and the Russian Federation (all at the same time). It cannot be excluded that there are attempts to pull the same trick on one of them (by the “who blinks first” principle), which was ultimately successful at the beginning of the 1970s.

The price Washington then had to pay for its political and strategic success was the “exit” from the UN and the Security Council of Taiwan, the most staunch ally of the USA in Asia. Both of these seats were taken by the PRC, and getting it on the U.S. side had been the goal of the trick. It then had significant implications for the further course and the outcome of the Cold War.

Today, such “bait” in Washington’s game with its two primary opponents taken separately could be the above-mentioned Taiwan for China and Ukraine for Russia. And at this point, it seems appropriate to dwell briefly on the second one of these “baits.”

Ukraine must deal with the consequences of being a full-fledged independent state (apparently, this is the main message of the article on this topic by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev). Perhaps it can get out of the maze of its 30 years of domestic and foreign policy wanderings that have taken some bizarre zigzags. For example, the one caused by trying to flirt with the main geopolitical opponent of its current (absolute) suzerain. Of course, it demonstrates the level of the inadequacy of the current Kyiv government.

Ukraine needs to realize the main thing: no one owes it anything, and it is the architect of its own happiness. Today, there is no “West,” and perhaps there never has been a “Europe,” which all kinds of political swindlers continue to wave before Ukraine like a carrot. The attempts to play the “Great World Politics” (moreover, in favor of one of the leading players against another), which have been going on since independence, without having the necessary potential for this, will sooner or later end in disaster as it happened 300 years ago with the ideological predecessor of the current Ukrainian statehood.

Anyway it seems undeniable that Russia will not be currently caught on a hook with today’s Ukraine as bait (which appears to be assigned the role of “Eastern European Taiwan”). The price of the issue is too high due to the ongoing process of comprehensive rapprochement between China and Russia. There is definitely an external factor (in the form of “pressure” by the United States on both countries) involved here. However, in the author’s view, it is not the main one.

The development of relations between Russia and its great neighbor is vital, irrespective of how they develop between Moscow and the rest of the world. To put it mildly, the occasional talk about what Washington could offer in exchange for worsening Russia’s relations with China seems strange. Washington can, in principle, have no “equivalent” to Russian-Chinese relations, just as there are no “equivalents” to normal US-Russian and US-Chinese relations, which also have their significance.

On the whole, it is obvious that the issue of maintaining balanced relations in the China-USA-Russia geopolitical triangle is of fundamental importance for the entire world. In this regard, it is undoubtedly positive that contacts have recently become more frequent, with officials at various levels from the United States, China, and Russia visiting each other.

Only through the joint efforts of these countries, with the involvement of other significant players (India, Japan, Germany, UK, France,…), it is possible to address the growing variety of global problems.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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