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The Financial Express

China: America's Enemy Du Jour


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-Reuters file photo -Reuters file photo

The post-World War II period was marked by increasing economic and military dominance by the Unites States. The US hegemony during this period was largely maintained through establishment of a host of organisations to coordinate global order both political and economic. But it was the economic and military dominance that remained the key elements of US power projection. The postwar policy of "détente" between the US and the Soviet Union established the cold war that froze the world into two rival zones while facilitating innumerable localised wars with an underlying threat of an atomic world war.

But the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 turned the US as the only superpower reinforcing the deeply held belief in itself -"American Exceptionalism". To most Americans, history vindicated that belief and the US became the dominant unipolar power, global hegemon. Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) became the rage. According to Fukuyama, democracy and capitalism were more than just triumphant in the Cold War; they were the inevitable way forward for all societies. They were timeless. In fact, Fukuyama went far beyond Henry Luce's 1941 pronouncement that the 20th century would be the American century. However, Fukuyama has now sufficiently amended his predictions.

While the triumphalist drum beats have been going on; The US has been facing economic crises one after another beginning with the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods system. The rising inflation in the US resulting from the massive military expenditure to fight the war in Vietnam led the US to suspend gold convertibility, a key aspect of the system in August 1971. The remaining part of the system, the adjustable peg disappeared in March 1973. In fact, the dollar struggled throughout the 1960s within the parity established at Bretton-Woods. This crisis marked the breakdown of the system.

More importantly, the 21st century brought in new economic challenges; the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 and the corona virus pandemic further added to its other ongoing economic woes. These crises revealed the underlying weaknesses of the US economy. The US now stands as the single largest debtor country in the world with over US$22 trillion debt by the end of 2019. If anything, the corona virus pandemic has further worsened the situation in 2020. Such a debt ridden country is not in a position to dispense favour to other countries to buy influence.

The US military might as projected through 800 plus military bases around the world and having the largest armed forces in world history could not defeat a poor country like Vietnam nor could it win a military victory in the longest war in American history in another poor country, Afghanistan. In fact, since the end of the second World War, the US never won one single decisive military victory in numerous wars it has waged since the end of WW II.

Paul Kennedy's historical analysis "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" published in 1987 included a short chapter on the US. In light of the demise of the previous imperial powers, Kennedy concluded that the US would succumb to "imperial overreach". The US indeed achieved a global overreach as the leader of the Western alliance and dominated the world economically, politically and militarily for almost half a century. But the economic and military dominance of the world by the US is now fading. It is now time to revisit Paul Kennedy to understand what really is happening to the US.

The circumstances leading to Biden's ascension to power further added to the concerns regarding the internal cohesion among members of the US political elite. Such crises always create power vacuum as reflected in the elite's inability to choose any other better candidates other than Trump or Biden to contest the presidency in 2020. The empire is definitely in a serious crisis mode. In fact, one commentator already commented "if Obama was Tiberius, and Trump was Caligula, then the limp and deaf Biden is Claudius. Up next Nero". The concluding forecast in the comment is self explanatory.

The US dominance is fading rather fast as China a country outside the traditional US alliance structure is emerging as an economic and technological power. China in all likelihood not only will bridge the gap but also overtake the US's economic and technological advantage in the very near future.

It is estimated that the US will find itself in second place behind China (already the world's second largest economy) in economic output by 2026. Also, the expansion of China's sphere of influence around the world is a further testimony to the fading US dominance of the global order. The contrasting trajectories of China and the US signal an emerging shift in the global balance of power- from unipolar to a multipolar world order.

China's growing economic, technological and military power pose a challenge to the US. There is an increasingly polemicised discourse going on in the US in describing China as an existential threat to the US. The Brookings Institution, an influential think tank with strong ties to the Democratic Party has recently described China's long term strategy as a revisionist attempt to deconstruct the liberal world order and displace the US as the predominant world power.

 It further noted the Communist Party of China (CPC) is exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic crisis to discredit US leadership. It then calls for enhanced competition with China as the "paramount strategic concern" for the US. Its reference to the CPC is of great interest in this context and goes beyond enhanced competition with China, there is a hint of regime change.

Kurt Campbell, the architect of the "Pivot to Asia-Pacific" under the Obama Administration in a recent article in Foreign Affairs compared dealing with China's rise to the task to maintaining peace between powers in Europe during and after the Napoleonic era, a time marked by shifting alliances and constant diplomatic activity to maintain stability in the region. He then suggested the same kind of activity to deal with China's rise.

Both Democrats and Republicans now agree that confronting China is America's paramount challenge. The US's China Policy under the Biden administration is likely to be just as confrontational as it was under President Trump. Biden's national security and foreign policy team seems very similar to the Trump team in terms of its hard liner attitude towards China.

Furthermore, the militarization of national security policy to pursue "forever wars" always needs a new enemy to open up new areas of military involvement. In the current time context China perfectly fits the bill. President Biden himself on his visit to the State Department on last Thursday (February, 4) vowed to confront Russia and China.

As president Biden unveiled his national security and foreign policy team which includes Tony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National security Adviser, both are well known China hawks. Tony Blinken already said "Trump was right to take a tougher approach China". Jake Sullivan argued in an article in Foreign Affairs that China was "pursuing global dominance". The China hawks not only see China as an economic competitor but also a military rival that must be thwarted.

 At the virtual Devos summit on January 25 Chinese President XI Jinping called on the world to abandon an "outdated Cold War mentality", then further adding "confrontation will lead us to a dead end". This was President Xi's first public speech since Biden's inauguration. Despite such positive signals from China, Jake Sullivan last week declared that the Biden Administration would continue to build on the Quad, a military alliance comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India. He sees it (Quad) a "foundation upon which to build substantial American policy in the Indo-Pacific region". There are now suggestions afloat to turn it into a "Quad Plus" which could be a NATO like alliance to counter China.

Sullivan then quoted Dean Acheson, secretary of state in the Truman administration to elucidate his policy objective "the basic thrust and purpose of American foreign policy" had to be to create "situation of strength' so that when contended with an adversary or a significant challenge, the US was at "a point of maximum advantage" to deal with it.

Sullivan also stressed that the need to work with allies is designed to impose costs on China for its actions. He later explicitly mentioned what those actions were and said "to impose costs for what China is doing in Xinjiang, what it is doing in Hong Kong. For the bellicosity and threats that it is projecting towards Taiwan".

Secretary of State Blinken even went further and said he also agreed that China's treatment of Muslim minorities in its Xinjiang province should be considered genocide, a designation the Trump administration made on its way out the door. It is amazing such a designation came from an administration that banned Muslims from seven Muslim majority countries to enter the US notwithstanding also the US history of slavery and continuing discrimination against Afro-Americans and the wartime internment of a racial minority.

The issue of Xinjiang, therefore, needs to be put in the proper perspective. In reality, the US remains the principal perpetrator of anti-Muslim sentiment across the world giving concrete shape to what is now we call "islamophobia"- equating Muslims with terrorists. It all started with the formation of the sate of Israel by dispossessing Palestinians from their homeland Palestine. The US being the principal sponsor of this colonial settler apartheid state went on vilifying the Arabs who are largely Muslims but not wholly, because they opposed the formation of the state of Israel and continue to do so.

9/11 terrorist attack has culminated in the US giving final touch to Islamophobia as it exists now with ideological inputs from anti-Muslim American academics like Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Daniel Pipes, Martin Indyk and others. Hollywood provides the popular cultural context in furthering the conflation of Islam and terrorism.

So much so that the US has helped shape and to take hold of Islamophobia in other countries in the world, in particular countries like India and Myanmar. Both these countries are now in the forefront in pursuing discrimination, marginalization and genocide of Muslims by terming them as terrorists whenever Muslims in these two countries stand up to defend their basic human rights or right to self-determination in place like Kashmir in India or Rakhine in Myanmar

When the US stands up for Muslims anywhere in the world, the country can not credibly be trusted. Up-until a few weeks ago, Muslims from a number of countries were banned from entering the US. That the ban has gone now is no guarantee that Muslims from these or other countries can enter the US easily and quite often will not face humiliating encounters at immigration check points or while taking a domestic flight or flights out of the US.

China has constitutionally recognized 56 ethnic minorities including the Uyghurs. Uyghurs constitute only 42 percent of all Chinese Muslims. Xinjiang is also home to many other ethnic groups. The largest Muslim ethnic Muslim group in China is the Hui people constituting 48 percent of all Muslims in China. The remaining 10 percent of Chinese Muslims are Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and a few other smaller ethnic groups.

There is no persecution of Hui Muslims, then why China would persecute Uyghur Muslims? There is a presence of Uyghur separatist movement in Xinjiang largely funded by the CIA as it is (CIA) funding the Hong Kong separatist movement with political support provided by the US government. The conflict in Xinjiang is not one of religion but of separatism as it is in Hong Kong.

The current separatist movement in Hong Kong that has also been engineered by the US. It has another purpose to convey a message to Taiwan that "one China, two systems" framework does not work. In essence, the people involved in the current movement in Hong Kong are not against two systems, the movement is singularly aimed at undermining one China. China has always emphasized to Taiwan that "the principles of peaceful reunification" and "one country, two systems are the best approach to realizing national unification".

The issue of Taiwan is tightly circumscribed by "national sovereignty". China has made its position quite clear and warned Taiwan that any attempt to declare independence means war and China will safeguard its national sovereignty and security.

The global system since the end of the WWII has been engineered under the US stewardship. Following decades of US hegemony, that very system is now increasing becoming not only incapable of accommodating the rising economic and military power like China but also has become quite dysfunctional. As such the US attempts at arm-twisting its allies for compliance in its neo-Cold war against China are unlikely to succeed. Also, the intense US campaign to vilify China to isolate the country in 2020 also yielded no results, there were hardly any takers.

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