Significant Changes of Direction by the West in Relation to China

Two recent articles have recently appeared in the Russian journal Strategic Culture that point to significant changes that are occurring among western nations toward Russia and China. These changes have been in the wind for some time but in recent months the tempo has accelerated. Both Russia and China are pointing the way to a new system, the ramifications of which will have extraordinary effects on the geopolitical world.

The first of these articles was written by Finian Cunningham and appeared in Strategic Culture on 13 October. The article “Veering to the Abyss … U.S. and Allies are Intellectually Comatose” is based on an interview that Mr Cunningham did with the American academic Professor Michael Brenner.

Professor Brenner commences his argument by pointing to what he calls an abject failure of political leadership and strategic thinking. This failure is most clearly seen with regard to Washington’s persistent antagonism towards China and its inability to conduct meaningful dialogue and diplomacy with Beijing for the purpose of resolving major issues.

The situation is so dire in Professor Brenner’s view that what he calls a lamentable lack of strategic and political thinking by the United States is driving the rest of the world to an abyss.

Brenner says that “any description of a coherent strategic design to the Biden administration is misplaced.” Rather, he sees Biden’s control over his national security team as tenuous. United States officials such as secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan as being unanimous in their view that China is a lethal threat to American dominance. These two see a confrontational approach as being the only logical response to China’s growth.

Washington thinks only in terms of a coercive mindset because that is the only concept that they are capable of. The only way this can be resolved is for the United States to take responsibility for the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

Brenner points to the recent development of the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and the United States) as a political gesture that is designed to achieve two ends: first, to place an immediate obstacle in the way of Sino-Australian relations, and second, to tighten the United States grasp on Canberra’s foreign policy options in the Asia Pacific region.

He describes the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as someone who is just posturing, Brenner is not the first person to point out that there will be economic losses as a consequence of Australia’s posture toward China. It is difficult to understand how Australia could, in fact, follow a foreign policy that is so detrimental to its economic relationship with China, which is far and away its biggest trading partner. One of the alarming features is that Morrison’s suicidal conduct toward trading relationships with China has had so little effect on his popularity. The Australian media has played a major role in not alerting the readership to the economic dangers of Australia’s blind adherence to American foreign policy wishes with regard to China.

An even more significant point than the deteriorating relationship between China and Australia is Brenner’s acknowledgement of the fundamental change in Japan’s relationship with China, that he describes as a 90° shift in its attitude. He referred to the recent meeting of the presidents of the two countries where they agreed to pursue “constructive and stable relations” based on an increased dialogue.

The second article worthy of mention is an editorial which appeared in Strategic Culture on 15 October entitled “Best Laid Plans… Washington’s Zero-Sum Mindset Alienates Allies.” The editors of Strategic Culture see the consequences of Washington’s Cold War style confrontational policy towards China as being responsible for an ever-growing rift with United States’ allies in both Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. This was evident during the G-20 and ASEAN discussions both held this week where numerous countries expressed their deep misgivings about Washington’s relentless push for divisive relationships with China.

These allies were caught totally unaware by the formation earlier this month of the new tripartite relationship between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS). This development completely blindsided the United States’ European allies.

It is not too difficult to see the reasons for Europe’s alarm over any deterioration in a relationship with China. China is now their most important trading partner, having recently overtaken the United States in that role. Germany, which is the most important economy in the European context, is now heavily dependent on China’s market. The Germans would clearly resist any attempts by the Americans to diminish China’s important role in their trading relationship.

The editorial also observes that many Asian nations have also become alarmed by Washington’s Cold War activism towards China.  Although several of the ASEAN nations have a dispute with China over access to what they regarded as territorial waters, that is a dispute that is being resolved by consultations between the parties, which is a classic Asian means of resolving difficulties between parties.

In what has become a rather tiresome repetition, the United States talks about upholding what they are pleased to call the “rules based international order.” This is a particularly tiresome phrase for many countries who distinguish the so-called rules based international order from the long-standing and well-established system of international law. These countries correctly recognise the rules based international order as simply a device whereby the Americans and their allies impose their view of what they want to see happen upon the rest of the world. It is in short simply another means of seeking to maintain their dominance over others.

Strategic Culture concludes by saying that the world is ineluctably diverging from the United States and that is because the world is now finding that American power is the fundamental irreconcilable problem, rather than a solution.

These two articles are important because they highlight what is a fundamental trend in world geopolitics. That is that the world is moving away from a framework constructed by the United States and which dominated for much of the post-World War II period. As such it is a trend to be encouraged.

James O'Neill is a retired Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He can be contacted at Read other articles by James.