The first two-day summit between China and the United States held in Anchorage, Alaska on 19-20 March was quite acrimonious. It was the first such summit held since President Joe Biden took office. The opening to diplomatic summits are generally carefully choreographed for press cameras before the doors close for real talks to begin. But in this instance both China and the US publicly clashed during their first face to face talks and exchanged barbs for over an hour in front journalists and television cameras.
In fact, far from seeking to ease the dangerous escalation of tensions initiated by the Trump administration, both US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan used the meeting not only to raise the stakes in escalating the confrontation with China but also doubled down on President Trump's aggressive posturing against China.
In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic niceties, Blinken's Department of State imposed economic sanctions against two dozen Chinese officials as well as issued a flurry of punitive actions directed at Chinese telecommunication and information technology companies over national security concerns just on the eve of the talks.
In an extraordinary show of arrogance, Blinken, at the start of the meeting, went overboard regurgitating a long list of US standard grievances with Chinese domestic policy towards Tibet, Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the status of Taiwan, now added with a new one of economic coercion (read Australia). Blinken also bluntly warned that China must abide by the "rules based international order", a code word for China to operate within the parameters set by the US or face consequences.
Then Jake Sullivan going beyond the ritualistic cant of order and rules outlined by Blinken, issued a veiled threat by talking about the Quad leaders' summit and said "that spoke to the can - do - spirit of the World's democracies and committed to the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific", a code word for encircling China and limiting China's ability to navigate freely in international waters or to exercise sovereignty over its territorial waters. In fact, this particular vision of the Quad made Yoshihide Suga the Prime Minister of one the two principal vassal states of the US in the region, Japan very "emotional".
These deliberately provocative remarks from Blinken and Sullivan designed to further worsen rather than improve relations compelled China's top foreign Policy official Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to counter in front of the media. Yang responded by saying that China upheld "the United Nations-centred international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so called "rule-based" international order''. He pointed out that unlike the US, China did not believe in "invading through the use of force, or toppling other regimes through various means, or massacring the people of other countries".
He further suggested that the US "stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world". In fact, "many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States", he further added. As for human rights, the US has its own problems including the abuse of democratic rights in the US and "they did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black lives matter".
He also rebutted US accusations of cyber attacks, pinpointing the US as the champion in this regard. Also, on the subject interference, he was forthright in telling the US that in certain instances the "problem is that the United States has exercised long-arm jurisdiction and suppression and overstretched the national security through the use of force or financial hegemony".
Yang then went on to declare that "the United States itself does not represent international public opinion and neither does the Western world". He also pointed out quite clearly that the majority of the world's countries would not recognise the universal values as espoused by the US or that "the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order".
Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasised that China would "not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side" and also sought clarification why the US saw China's relationship with Australia and Japan as that with the US and if the US continued to speak up for those countries because they were US allies or partners, the development of international relations would be "very difficult".
In response Jake Sullivan moved to resorting to US exceptionalism and added that America's "secret sauce" was that it had looked hard at its own shortcomings and worked to improve. He then praised the "secret sauce" for all the US' constant reinventions and collaborations for producing 'the Kind of progress that benefits all of us".
Many social media users in China portrayed the talks in Anchorage as talks like the Hongmen Banquet, a historical event that took place more than 2000 years ago where a rebel leader invited another to a banquet with the intention to murder him. Instead of using the meeting to ease trade and other tensions between the two countries, the State Department clearly indicated "America's approach will be undergirded by confidence in our dealing with Beijing, which we are doing from a position of strength".
A former Australian diplomat found Anchorage talks rather revealing and said "Today, in my opinion, marked a turning point in international relations; China drew a line on the sand, did not bend at the knee nor tug its forelock". In fact, China was standing up to Washington's imperial hubris and finally made the playing field level. In many ways the Anchorage Summit is the watershed moment for China-US relationship. China for the first time talked with the US as an equal. Also, the remarks made by Yang and Wang in Alaska indicate China has now concluded that compromise is just as unlikely under Biden as Trump.
Now the ball is in the US court, and from now on the game will be played on the level playing field only. Even drafting in of European friends and allies to cheer up the US will not alter the situation. The European Union (EU) cynically joined the US against China by imposing sanctions against four Chinese officials. But there will be price to be paid by the US for such a support by conceding concessions to the EU on many fronts. Meanwhile, China also imposed its own sanctions on 10 European politicians and individuals as well as four entities.
Less than three months in office, the Biden administration is ramping up the US confrontation with China with extraordinary rapidity. The US foreign policy establishment always shared an underlying belief that the US could steer China to the US's liking as it successfully did with Japan and South Korea. Washington's imperial illusion still persists as its think-tank experts come up with views such as "America one day may look back on China the way they now view the Soviet Union".
Such an imperial illusion is the result of its leaders having been on the top of the world for so long that they forgot how they got there and who preceded the US as the imperial power. Empires always live and die by their illusions. It was exactly that way Great Britain faded away and made the way for the US to succeed. Now that is way the US is today, marching towards crashing into oblivion.
The US ramping up of confrontation with China began under President Barak Obama with his "pivot to Asia" policy. The policy entailed a global military shift of US forces to the Pacific and directing Asian trade towards the US through a new set of trade agreements. But the policy soon proved to be a 'no goer' and then totally ditched by President Donald Trump.
China correctly read the "Pivot to Asia" as a containment policy similar to the US strategy applied against the Soviet Union to contain it. But President Obama also seriously underestimated the rapid economic rise of China and its rising influence in the region with the resultant seriousness of China's sustained challenge to the US's global hegemony.
In a renewed attempt to confront China, President Biden has staffed his China team with well known anti-China hawks like Kurt Campbell, Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Eli Ratner. He has also created a China task force at the Pentagon. Now the US is drumming up war hysteria against China. The Pentagon, in line with the call made by the head of the US Indo-Pacific command Admiral Philip Davidson at a Congressional testimony, asked Congress for US$27 billion budget increase to support a massive military build up against China. In fact, Admiral Davidson predicted that the US could face war with China over Taiwan within five years.
The US for more than two decades continued with the fiction that the little island headed by the Kuomintang dictatorship was the legitimate representative of China. Finally, in 1979 the US conceded that Beijing not Taipei was the legitimate government of all China, including Taiwan. But under the Trump administration all restrictions ended on contact between US and Taiwan officials, both military and civilian. Now under the Biden administration closer military collaborations are underway to strengthen naval confrontation with China in Chinese waters including the development of long range missiles by Taiwan to strike deep into the Chinese territory.
The US's fixation about the "rule based international order" is simply because the "order" has been forged by the US using bombs, guns along with the use of military and economic coercions to safeguard its own global interests. Using the pretext of enforcing the "rule based order", the US has systematically ignored and violated international law, leaving behind widespread death, violence, chaos and destruction.
By dispensing with the UN Charter and the rule of international law, the US invaded countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and used military force and unilateral economic sanctions to destroy, isolate or punish an ever growing number of countries around the world to submit to its imperial diktats. It has indeed made the world more deadly, violent and chaotic.
The irony is that the US itself has increasingly been becoming a violent society so much so that violence in the country has become routine, almost has turned into a new normal. Mass shootings are quite common. It is reported that every day more than 100 Americans are killed in gun violence with more than 230 shot and wounded.
In fact, after inciting violence and chaos around the world under the pretext of "freedom and democracy", the US is having a taste of its own medicine at home. Domestic terrorism now even struck at the very heart of what can be described as the "US system of democracy" as was seen in early January this year.
The shootings, drive by killings, pipe bombs, gun mania with guns outnumbering the population (120.5 guns for every 100 Americans), police violence and the expanding prison industry are all symptomatic of the deep- seated internal crises that now exist in the society. Such crises are naturally also causing splits within its political establishment on the one hand and declining support for democratic values by the people on the other, thus creating a very congenial environment for totalitarian values to take deep roots. Also, the conditions for democracy have been seriously undermined by the US political establishment's strong commitment to neoliberalism.
The US's championing of the cause of democracy is oligarchical. It is designed for interest groups to determine and forge laws regardless of who is currently in the White House. The core of this system is dominated by multinational corporations, which Noam Chomsky described as the human institutions closest to the totalitarian vision.
Both Democrats and Republicans are engaged in democratic hypocrisy. 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump who quite openly espouse violence and his hatred for democracy and crushing of dissent are well documented. These are all important ingredients for making of a totalitarian state. The assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters further revealed the rising support for a totalitarian state.
The US is now desperately trying to reassert its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region by heightening tensions with China over Taiwan. Taiwan is becoming a dangerous flash point and can trigger a war between the US and China. In a war with China, the US can not win a decisive victory. A war with China will not only cause serious harm to the US economy but also to the global economy creating a global crisis that will illustrate the late Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef's (he was also Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkley) observation of the US as "a country on the road to underdevelopment".