President Joe Biden’s administration appears determined to project the image that United States remains the world’s hegemon regardless of cost or consequences and despite overwhelming developments around the globe that are contrary to such misguided hubris.
The American leadership has always rested on the carrot-and-stick approach to rally countries around a unipolar world headed by the US.
The carrot is in the form of foreign aid Uncle Sam dangles before a country as reward for joining the American camp. The stick is the threat of economic disengagement and sanctions and the withholding of military protection, thus stripping away that nation’s sense of security.
Since the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent quantitative easing by printing billions of dollars to keep the US economy afloat, the economic might and stability of the American monetary system is not what it used to be in the minds of many nations.
When the Biden White House unilaterally confiscates foreign reserves owned by other countries but held in the US, such as in the cases of Afghanistan and Russia, the reputation of the US as a fiduciary is in doubt. The full faith in and credit of the US government cease to mean very much to the world.
Thus the carrot has dried and withered, and after the 20-year war and debacle in Afghanistan, the stick Uncle Sam carries appears to have shriveled and is not so intimidating. Sending arms but no troops to Ukraine merely confirms America’s preference for war by proxy with little appetite for direct engagement.
Bully on the block
Yet the Biden team seems oblivious to the erosion of the US stature as the world leader but insists on going around the world approaching each country and demanding that it choose sides and align with the American geopolitical positions.
The US has elected to designate China as its adversary for the foreseeable future. For allies and would-be allies to side with the US means they must also regard China as their adversary as well.
The American demand places these countries in a dilemma, because regarding China as an adversary is in conflict with their own national interests. China is most likely their most important trading partner and a potential major investor and major supporter in the building infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative.
China has expressed no interest in displacing the US to become the world hegemon and places no demand or expectation that countries choose sides. Friendship with China does not discourage or preclude friendship with the US.
Beijing’s style of international diplomacy makes it easy for countries to get along with China and with the US while demurring from being a fully committed formal member of the American alliance.
The Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles this month hosted by President Biden is just the latest indication. Many Latin American countries including Mexico found reasons not to attend. Nothing like throwing a party that used to be a must-show event that nations now decide to bypass.
Russia proposes New Group of Eight
The Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin suggested recently that the G7 nations – once considered the world’s leading economies – are continuing “to crack under the weight of sanctions imposed against Russia,” obviously referring to the sacrifice of their economic self-interest in order to meet the demands of the US.
Most other nations will have nothing to do with the American-imposed sanctions against Russia. From the non-compliant group of nations, Volodin proposes the formation of a “New Group of Eight” as counterweight to the G7.
He selects Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Iran and Turkey as members of NG8. Volodin reasons that this group of eight countries with a combined GDP (measured in purchasing power parity – PPP) is 24.4% larger than that of the G7 nations.
Furthermore, the NG8 contains about half of the world’s population and is much more representative of world opinion and interests. Ironically, Russia left the G7 group in 2014 and is now the promoter of NG8. This development can only be attributed to American insistence on remaining on top of a unipolar world, a unipolar world vaporizing Star Trek-style as we speak.
The Biden White House seems to think it has succeeded in getting Ukraine to go into war with Russia and is willing to send another $40 billion worth of weapons to Kiev to enable it to fight to the last Ukrainian. They now think that they can persuade Taiwan to do the same, namely, provoke China into conflict.
To provoke war with China, the Taipei government would have to declare independence. Washington has been encouraging the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to inch toward that red line, selling the party leaders the idea that the US is ready to go to war with Taiwan.
However, a majority of people in Taiwan do not find American assurances credible, do not believe Taiwan can win a proxy war against China, and cannot justify the death and destruction it would entail just to make Washington happy. The people in Taiwan also find it inconceivable that the Chinese would actually attack their own people on Taiwan.
China ready to go to war over Taiwan
In the meantime, Beijing has invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and declared that the waters of the Taiwan Strait are within the territorial waters of China. Henceforth, any vessels belonging to foreign countries that sail between the mainland and Taiwan and challenge the sovereignty of China will be subject to attack without notice.
China is a signatory of UNCLOS while the US is not. Beijing has drawn the red line based on international law. Continued provocation by American officials in Taiwan will put US vessels in the Taiwan Strait in jeopardy.
The Beijing expression of its intentions is as stark and unequivocal as it can be. The next move will be up to the Pentagon to see if it is willing to test China’s resolve. There can be no question that China would rather fire on the US Navy than threaten Taiwan with missiles.
Heretofore, Biden has depended on creating more money out of thin air to keep the American economy going. Printing money has been so easy that sending $40 billion to Ukraine seems pain-free. Conflict over Taiwan and waters around there, however, would surely lead to a meltdown of the Fed printing press.
George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform.