It is not difficult to conclude that China is winning this greater battle for influence as it prevails in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and perhaps even in Europe… On the other hand, betting against America has never been a paying proposition. The country has just too much economic, military, technological and intellectual heft to be disregarded
Breakfast With Bwana
By Anil Madan
The headline, some five months ago, in a major newspaper was startling: Xi Jinping tells China’s army to focus on preparation for war. More recently, Foreign Affairs had a headline and admonition echoing the same theme: Xi Jinping Says He Is Preparing China for War: The World Should Take Him Seriously.
China continues to make inroads in Latin America and Africa whereas the US seems to be scrambling to catch up. As America’s deficits pile up, there is little leverage to compete meaningfully against China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Pic – i.ytimg.com
The statements seem facially so utterly incongruous that one has to take a closer look. Why incongruous? Simply because unless forced into a war, China has nothing to gain from a military conflict. Now, I am not talking about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan which, unless the US intervenes is unlikely to spiral out of control. Although China probably could not mount a successful amphibious invasion, it could cause untold pain for Taiwan with a total blockade of the island. But to what end? China might eventually gain concessions, perhaps even a surrender by Taiwan, but it would face an uncooperative population of some 24 million and may even find that critical industrial plants manufacturing semiconductors and other products, have been sabotaged. Even absent sabotage, the semiconductor plants probably could not operate without cooperation from partners in Korea, Japan, and the US.
The Chinese government customs website lists the five top trading partners in 2022, by region or country, with China as: ASEAN $975 billion, EU $847 billion, USA $759 billion, South Korea $362 billion, Japan $357 billion. And the 6th was Taiwan, at $319 billion; the 7th Hong Kong at $305 billion. I mention the latter two for reasons to be discussed later.
Only a totally unintelligent person would want to destroy a trading partner with that volume of trade. And President Xi is not such a man. What exactly did President Xi say? No, it was not that he was preparing China for war. Among his other statements was this: “Focus all [your] energy on fighting, work hard on fighting and improve [your] capability to win.” And the army must also “resolutely defend national sovereignty and national security” as China was in an “unstable and uncertain” security situation.
When a US President or administration spokespersons use similar language about the need for American forces to be ready to meet challenges and protect the security of the US, no similar complaints are made. Less attention was paid to President Xi’s statement: “In the face of wars that may be imposed on us, we must speak to enemies in a language they understand and use victory to win peace and respect.” Speaking to “wars that may imposed on us is hardly an aggressive call to prepare to launch an offensive war.” And preparing one’s military capacities to gain peace and respect? Well, we’ve heard that from US Presidents for a long time.
Those observations aside, the admonition to take President Xi seriously is well taken, not because he is threatening war, but because we must take seriously his clear statement that when it comes to Taiwan’s independence, “we will never promise to renounce the use of force” and that he views “foreign interference” for exacerbating tensions and encouraging separatist elements.
Such statements are nothing new in geopolitics. Similar statements about protecting national interests have been made by Putin, various NATO leaders, India’s Prime Minister, and even Kim Jong Un.
What President Xi’s statement and President Biden’s vows that the US will come to Taiwan’s aid if it is attacked tell us is that both sides treat this as a serious issue. This is not a call to war, but a call for sensible leaders to find mutually beneficial outcomes because both sides benefit from an independent and prosperous Taiwan. But an independent and prosperous Taiwan strikes at the Chinese Communist Party’s core hatred of a long-ago enemy that should be, but is not, forgotten.
Given the volume of trade that China still has with Hong Kong even after its brutal crackdown against that island’s population, China could well conclude that in the long run, an invasion of Taiwan will not cause a significant reduction in trade. And we know that the CCP doesn’t care a whit about human rights or what the rest of the world thinks on that score.
Underlying all of this is a new geopolitical reality that is taking shape before our eyes. Just as Britannia Rules the Waves is a long-forgotten slogan, the idea that when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold, is a bygone diagnostic suggestion. Today, if China is not the de facto predominant force in an emerging geopolitical reality, it certainly is not that far behind.
The pundits who write about these subjects seem to be missing the simple point that China’s economic clout has already displaced the ability of the US to respond in meaningful ways and, more importantly, the leaders of many countries who even five years ago would not have chosen Beijing over Washington, seem none too disturbed about China’s ascendance. When these leaders interact with countries harboring a natural animosity for the US, the displacement of the US is palpably welcomed. China is exploiting the rents in the fabric of international relations deftly.
It has not been that long a time since the US was congratulating itself for fostering peace between Israel and certain Arab countries under the so-called Abraham accords. But as significant an achievement as that was, the peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran brokered by China is no less important. The follow-on efforts to bring peace to Yemen have certainly helped to thaw relations between Riyadh and Washington, but make no mistake, China gets the bulk of the credit here too. More importantly, this signifies a loss of US influence over the world’s oil markets.
We have seen reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are buying oil from Russia at a discount for their domestic consumption while selling their own production at higher prices as OPEC countries cut production despite President Biden’s urgings for more production. This reflects another loss of US influence. China and India continue to buy Russian oil, further undercutting US sanctions. And America’s calls for condemnation of Putin’s war crimes and human rights abuses fall on deaf ears in countries that couldn’t care less about those subjects.
China continues to make inroads in Latin America and Africa whereas the US seems to be scrambling to catch up. As America’s deficits pile up, there is little leverage to compete meaningfully against China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Is the Quad alliance among Australia, India, Japan, and the US sufficient to overcome China’s influence? Australia and Japan seem to be onboard with the US, but India is a recusant participant at best, seeking to hedge its bets with Russia, its prime supplier of fighter jets and munitions. In the long run, India may come a cropper in this arrangement as China’s control over Russia seems destined to grow. India’s calculation that it has little to gain from a closer reliance on the US for fighter jets and arms may be well founded.
It is not difficult to conclude that China is winning this greater battle for influence as it prevails in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and perhaps even in Europe as President Macron calls for the EU countries not to be seduced by America’s conflicts, an obvious reference to Taiwan.
On the other hand, betting against America has never been a paying proposition. The country has just too much economic, military, technological and intellectual heft to be disregarded. America’s house is in internal disorder. If Americans can shape up and straighten things out, China doesn’t stand a chance. But time is running out. The geopolitical landscape may spiral out of control. That remains to be seen but America is making things more difficult for itself.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 21 April 2023
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