A remarkable day of intercontinental wrangling confirmed that U.S. relations with China have plunged to their lowest point since President Richard Nixon’s pioneering mission to “open” the then isolated Communist state in the 1970s. US-Russian relations, meanwhile, are at their most difficult point since the fall of the Soviet Union.
In Alaska, meanwhile, extraordinary exchanges took place in front of the press between American and Chinese officials on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of “deep concern” he had raised about China’s behavior during a tour of Asia and condemned China for breaking the rules that keep a “world at bay. more violent “. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the United States against Chinese criticism by saying it has a “secret sauce” that helps it mend its imperfections – in a clear snap from China’s authoritarian regime.
Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi then broke further the normally stifling protocol of the US-China talks by asking, “Is this how you hoped to conduct this dialogue? Well, I think we thought too well in the United States.”
The exchanges – the diplomatic equivalent of a one-on-one feud that will reverberate across the Pacific – have prompted a senior US official to accuse the Chinese of having arrived “with the intention of growing up, centered on the public theaters and drama rather than on the background “.
Given the fragile international situation, an attempt by a new US president to flex power in such an open manner against two nuclear rivals might seem thoughtless. But if anything, Biden is reacting to a strategic calculation that has changed since being vice president in the Obama administration, which sought to reset relations with Russia and based his Chinese policy on managing the rise. peaceful economic power to come in the East. .
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s assertive nationalist authoritarianism has since transformed China’s global outlook and willingness to project its strength. He is now locked in a regional and increasingly global competition with Washington.
Although devoid of the strategic clout of the former Soviet Union, Moscow has made undermining American influence and internal political cohesion a centerpiece of its global strategy – witnessed by its interference in two US elections.
It is clear that Biden’s harsh rhetoric, bragging about an upcoming American economic recovery and statements that “America is back,” is designed to undermine the view shared in Moscow and Beijing that the United States is severely weakened by two decades of entering and leaving the Middle. East, its crippling political divisions and one of the worst responses to the pandemic in the world.
Biden’s insults for Putin and efforts to rally other major Pacific powers like India, Japan, Australia and South Korea before meeting China send another message: that chaotic foreign policy in which former President Donald Trump worshiped autocrats in Moscow and Beijing, ignored allies, and undermined his administration’s sometimes difficult strategy is the rubbish heap of history.
Former Russian president mocks Biden’s age
Once upon a time, Cold War rivals are now exchanging hot rhetoric.
With the ominous ambiguity of a Mafiosi, Putin wished Biden “good health” in response and challenged him to test his faculties in an online debate. In case anyone misses, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, once considered the great hope of restoring US-Russian ties during Obama’s time, responded with a direct insult referring to the Biden’s age as the oldest US president.
“It seems like the weather hasn’t been good with him. … I can only quote Freud:” Nothing in life is dearer than sickness and stupidity, “” Medvedev said, according to the official TASS news agency. Not for the first time, the attacks on Biden – and his age – by Russia and Trump looked almost identical.
Yuval Weber, a global member of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, said Biden is sending national and political messages with his willingness to attack Putin so directly.
“I don’t think there is a way to differentiate myself more aggressively and sharply from President Trump,” Weber said.
“What Biden was able to do was tell the American public as well as Putin that there is a very different sheriff in town.”
There is, of course, a risk that personal feuds between Washington and Moscow provide Putin the platform alongside the US president he aspires to and thinks is Russia’s right as a great power. It’s hardly ideal when the men whose fingers are on the two most powerful nuclear buttons in the world fold into rhetorical corners. Yet both Biden and Putin are seasoned leaders who are well aware of the strategic risks of what was once a superpower showdown.
And Biden’s interview with ABC News also reflected the pragmatism underlying US-Russian politics. The president has indicated that he is ready to respond to Putin’s macho approach while finding areas of common interest when they arise. He mentioned the renewal of the new nuclear treaty START in the first weeks of his administration. “It is extremely in the interest of humanity that we reduce the prospect of a nuclear exchange,” he said.
In reality, the United States is in a relative stronger position with Russia than with China, a much more powerful adversary. And the areas of common purpose with Russia are limited in what is an extremely confrontational relationship.
Washington recently accused Russia’s foreign spy agency SVR of orchestrating the massive and extensive “Solar Winds” hack against private US companies and several major government departments. Washington has come out strongly in favor of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who survived poisoning he attributes to the Russian state and was jailed upon his recent return to the country. Biden’s team also opposes the annexation of Moscow and the continued occupation of Crimea. And he is committed to re-energizing the NATO alliance – which has been frequently denigrated by Trump and has long been a key instrument of US world power.
‘Opponent when needed’
Meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats never publicly show the unpleasant scenes that unfolded in Alaska, which reflect rising tensions between an optimistic China and an America defending its world primacy.
Things got off to a bad start after U.S. officials made it clear that the talks were only meant to inform China that Biden plans to cement the Trump team’s shift from cooperation with Beijing to open competition.
“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it needs to be. And we will engage China from a position of strength,” Blinken said this month. .
Washington this week tightened sanctions against officials in Hong Kong and the mainland for cracking down on democracy in the former British colony. In another step that angered Beijing, the US Commerce Department issued subpoenas to several Chinese tech companies to see if they posed a national security risk in the United States.
There has been a lot of buzz in the foreign policy world about the possibility of a new Cold War between the United States and China. In fact, this twentieth-century term fails to sum up the scale of the contested issues and the fact that, unlike the Soviet Union, the rising Asian power is entrenched in the global economy.
The US-Chinese disputes over Taiwan, Hong Kong, the crackdown on Uyghur Muslims, South China Sea sovereignty, espionage and the theft of US intellectual property are vast. And Xi’s China has an industrial base and supply chains that are crucial to Western economies. Cutting-edge technology is also giving Beijing backdoors into the modern infrastructure of its potential enemies, meaning any new Cold War will likely take place in cyberspace.
Reflecting its growing power, senior Xi-era officials are far more willing to rebuke Washington than in nearly half a century of US-China relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian bristled at a joint US-Japan statement this week, as part of an effort by the Biden administration to create a united front of allies by way of of counterattack to the economic, strategic and military power of China aimed at forcing Beijing to accept the international. rules that China rejects as an attempt to reduce its power.
“The international community will have a fair judgment on who is the greatest threat to world peace,” Zhao said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
A lesson in American foreign policy over the past decades is that plans made in Washington often do not survive contact with the outside world. So Biden’s plan comes with some risk. A more assertive American approach could play into Xi’s nationalist worldview and, if the events in Alaska are any guide, has already made Beijing even more aggressive. A strained global relationship could sabotage the United States’ hopes of reaching deals with China on tackling climate change at a world summit in Scotland this year.
And there is no certainty that the American allies will adhere to Biden’s strategy. Asian nations must live with the reality of China’s growing power in their own strategic neighborhoods. Many doubt the attention span of the United States after various pivots in and out of Asia over the past decades. And it’s far from clear that the European Union wants to choose between the United States and China – and sent a signal to that effect by signing a trade deal with Beijing just before Biden took office.
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