The White House has openly leaked excerpts of substantial speech on national security that Donald Trump is expected to deliver later today. In the excepts that have been released, the US names China and Russia as its principle global rivals.
An excerpt reads,
“They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence”.
Based on this short excerpt, it would appear that the Trump White House has adopted the neo-con lexicon which implies that countries which don’t conform to how American leaders see their own country (however inaccurate this idealised vision is), are somehow an existential threat to the security of the US.
At the same time, this neo-con language is combined with the kind of apocalyptic theories of Steve Bannon who openly states that China and the US are inevitably headed for either a war or something close to a war.
Learning that the US views China and Russia as major rivals or threats is about as surprising as learning that Siberia is colder than Hawaii.
For years, the aim of US foreign policy, including the many proxy wars on all sides of China’s One Belt–One Road trade and commerce superhighway, have been designed to retard China’s logistical progress while simultaneously attempting to upset China’s political relations with her allies.
Russia, as China’s closest partner and more importantly, as the large geographical space that links the East Asia/Asia Pacific region to Eurasia’s western borderlands/Europe, is a clear target that according to western neo-imperial thinking, must ideally be subdued or mired in petty conflict in order to upset a superpower partnership that plays a substantial element in complete One Belt–One Road.
Implicit in One Belt–One Road, is a Chinese government that is growing ever more assertive in matters of geo-political affairs. In recent months, China produced and helped to implement its first peace proposal involving foreign states when Beijing introduced the three point plan to settle the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State (aka the Rohingya crisis) which has spilled over into Bangladesh.
Furthermore, earlier this year, China opened up its first ever overseas military logistics base in Djibouti.
The US aggression against China and Russia that the world has known about for years, but which Donald Trump will apparently lay bear in his forthcoming address, is a strategy that is destined to fail for the following reasons.
1. Zero-sum games versus the Win-Win model
The US continues to exercise a zero-sum mentality in geo-politics which can be summed up by phrases as simple as “you’re either with us or you’re against us” or “it’s us versus them”.
The notion is one which states quite clearly that in order to be considered a partner or ally of the US, one has to adopt US policy positions vis-a-vis relations with other states, never challenge the hegemony of the Dollar as a de-facto trading currency and all the while pursuing domestic policies that are friendly to US corporations and the US military–often at the expense of the needs of a local population.
Apart from the ethical red flags involved in such a policy, there is another game in town in the 21st century that is not only challenging, but in many cases outflanking Washington’s international strongman tactics.
In opposition to the US model, there is the Chinese model wherein Beijing looks to form partnerships based on the unemotional economic needs of a would-be partner, combined with China’s natural self-interest of wanting to expand her own trading networks.
One Belt–One Road is emblematic of a Chinese attitude which seeks to play up the strengths of any given partner, while injecting investment in order to allow these strengths to reach their full potential. China and other partners will then fill the gaps in areas where any given country is either lacking or logistically incapable of producing a given set of raw materials or finished products.
Crucially, unlike the US model, China does not make any demands on the internal governance of partner nations. This has been made abundantly clear in respect of China’s overtures and olive branches to a hostile Indian government. China isn’t particularly concerned about a country’s foreign policy, so long as it doers not involve the threat of war or regional instability.
This is why China’s position with the Indian government of Narendra Modi is one of firmness and fairness. China is leaving the door to cooperation with India open, even during trying times in bilateral relations. China is not asking India to change its ethos, but rather, Beijing would prefer a more constructive attitude on the part of India and is willing to be patient until such a day might arrive.
This win-win model has proved attractive to many traditional US partners, including South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and even Saudi Arabia.
According to the Chinese model, one can do business with Beijing while still acting as a US ally or a genuinely neutral state.
This is why for example countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia all call China their number one trading partner, even if this doesn’t translate into a military or policy making alliance. For China, this is not a requirement.
2. The Dollar versus the Yuan
China will soon be the undisputed largest economy in the world, although in many ways, China already is and has been for many years.
As such, the Chinese Yuan will likely become the de-facto international reserve currency and perhaps more importantly, the de-facto international trading currency.
Because of this, the rise of the Yuan is inevitable. However, the Yuan has distinct advantages over the Dollar, even when viewed outside of the prism of inevitability.
Unlike Dollar based institutions, the Yuan is unencumbered in respect of sanctions coming out of the US Treasury Department. Because of this, many countries which have been pounded by increasingly frequent US sanctions are moving to the Yuan. Venezuela is already selling oil futures contracts in Yuan and other countries will soon join.
Secondly, China is willing to make deals in a combination of Yuan and the national currency of a partner–for example the Yuan and Iranian Rial. By contrast the US tends to make all nations convert to the Dollar before completing a transaction, which often puts countries with poor exchange rates via-a-vis the Dollar, in a position which is necessarily disadvantaged.
Thirdly, even among traditional US partners, the absence of Dollar dependency would allow for a more sovereign policy making process because without the hegemony of the Dollar, the US automatically loses the primary tool it uses to leverage the policy making decisions of its often dependant partners.
Because most of contemporary US power as well as the all important ability to project power is based on the global hegemony of the Dollar, if this is chipped away by the Yuan, the United States will lose its most important source of domination over nations, apart from its vast military. This frightens many in Washington who do not envisage a future based on multilateralism, but instead seek to dominate the world in a unilateral fashion for years to come–something which is becoming increasingly untenable.
Finally, because China owns $1.2 trillion of US sovereign debt, if antagonised, China could retaliate by dumping Dollars. Since 2013, China has in fact been reducing its Dollar holdings in order to strengthen the value of the Yuan in preparation for the inevitable day when the Yuan becomes a floating currency. This itself will do tremendous damage to the value and prestige of the Dollar and there is little the US can do to stop this from one day occurring.
3. Russia’s model of “Win-Win Diplomacy”
During the Obama years and into Trump’s first year in power, Russia’s diplomatic model has visibly usurped the position of the US which in the 1990s was undisputed as the de-facto kingmaker of geo-politics.
Today, when it comes to brokering peace deals, singing contrasts for weapons and the all important energy trade, countries throughout the world are turning first to Russia.
This is the case among traditional Russian partners like Syria, Vietnam, Cuba and increasingly Iraq and Egypt once again, but more interestingly, this is also the case among many traditional US allies and partners.
Turkey and Philippines have both made seismic shifts in terms of security cooperation and weapons purchases that involve giving Russia a most favoured position. China too is an important buyer of Russian energy materials, hi-technology and weapons systems.
Added to this, countries as ingrained into the US system as Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Philippines and Israel, also look increasingly to Russia as a commercial partner in these areas and beyond.
In the non-aligned world, Russia has been able to maintain good contacts with India while pursuing historically successful and constantly growing relations with Pakistan.
Because Russia does not see diplomatic and security contacts in a zero-sum fashion any more than China sees commercial contacts in this way, Russia has been able to maintain good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India, Vietnam and China, South and North Korea, Serbia and Turkey.
In conflicts ranging from the war in Syria, to Israel-Palestine as well as India’s conflicts with both China and Pakistan–Russia is fast becoming a de-facto peace broker.
4. A Sino-Russian partnership that is meaningful
China and Russia have a long history of healthy relations in spite of being two giant land powers who share one of the world’s longest borders. In hindsight, it is accurate to say that the Sino-Soviet split of the Cold War era was an aberrational period in the long history of relations between the two superpowers.
Today, Russia and China are generally comfortable with their own roles in the world and as Russian industrial production increases in-line with the increased intensity of Chinese diplomatic involvement in international crisis areas, China and Russia are rapidly becoming complimentary both in areas where they share common strengths, as well as in areas where different strengths are pooled as part of the world’s most meaningful bilateral partnership.
In this sense, when it comes to a contest between three superpowers, it will be a matter of two against one for the foreseeable future.
5. It needn’t be a competition
The two against one paradigm in terms of a contest between superpowers needn’t exist and certainly would not exist if Russia and China had their say about it.
Russia is well aware that the United States has a totally different approach to geo-political engagement than Moscow’s diplomats, but nevertheless, Russia has always been willing to cooperate with the US when and where possible. In every instance, with very few exceptions, the US has decided to reject Russia’s open door in favour of either antagonism or attempted competition.
Likewise, the United States, while a declining industrial power, still has a large skilled workforce that could play a part in One Belt–One Road if the US ceased being a thorn in the side of China’s epoch making initiative.
As the Americas are the only area on the planet where One Belt–One Road is not set to travel in the near future, the US could have proposed a trans-American economic corridor from Cape Horn to the Canadian Arctic. This would require a great deal of Chinese investment, much of which could have gone into revitalising US industry, in addition to Chinese economic might helping to revitalise Washington’s relations with its neighbours in Central and South America.
The vast Pacific coast of the US could have been modernised with new ports and expanded existing ports in cities like Los Angeles, in order to connect a trans-American corridor to a Sino-US maritime belt.
This is what “win-win” cooperation between the US and China might look like in a world where Washington is not obsessed with zero-sum gamesmanship.
Donald Trump, as a businessman for most of his life, would have been in an ideal position to foment a kind of cooperative effort which could help the US transition into an age where China dominates the global economy with diplomatic grace while incurring economic benefits for the American people and their regional neighbours.
Instead, Trump has once again surrendered to a neo-con mentality combined with outdated notions of competition between superpowers.
While two of the three world superpowers cooperate, the US alone sees the world in competitive terms. In this sense, the US has set itself up for a loss when up against rising powers of the east for whom connectivity is the world of the day and competition is the word of the past.