The pivot to Asia is well and truly underway. This is part of the effort to quickly conclude, after 20 years, the war in Afghanistan, a reduction of the US military footprint on the ground. Across the Middle East, an effort to make relations with Russia more predictable, more stable. It’s all part of the focus on China. And then precisely in Asia, further with the Quad, the United States, Japan, Australia and India, the first invitation of a foreign leader to the United States to meet President Biden, was the Japanese Prime Minister Suga.
Very unusual, if you don’t pay attention to the fact that Japan is the United States’ most effective and important ally in Asia, vis-à-vis China. Second invitation, South Korean President Moon. Neither the Germans nor the Canadians, no, South Korean President Moon. It only makes sense if you consider China to be the top priority.
What’s interesting is that against the backdrop of this, four years ago you would expect the Chinese government to engage a lot more with other Western countries, an effort to separate the United States. of their allies to ensure that against them a bloc of Western democracies, but especially the United States. Certainly easy to do when it was Trump’s America first, than when it was President Biden, who was more popular with American allies. But the Chinese, who will soon be the world’s largest economy, have a lot of influence over other countries around the world. You would think they want to play it.
What is interesting is that they are not. Indeed, there has been a lot of backlash from other non-American advanced industrial democracies in part because the Chinese have been so angry with criticism from them. Think about the trade war between Australia and China. Launched by the Chinese in response to the Australian government saying, even before the Trump administration, that they wanted investigations into the origins of COVID. Did it or did it not come from nature, from a wet market or did it inadvertently escape from a Chinese laboratory? China moved all-in against Australia in response to this. They have received criticism from Europeans about the Uyghurs. They knew the Uyghur problem was coming.
There is more attention to human rights issues coming from various parts of the European Union. In response, the Chinese government is putting direct sanctions against members of the European Parliament. Anyone advising Xi Jinping would have known it was going to explode in their faces. As a result, there was a suspension of the much-loved EU-China investment deal, which was a big deal. He was, however, approved in principle, not ratified, just before Biden took office. It was a great victory for China. Now not such a big victory for China. The Italian government, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, has said he is seriously considering withdrawing his country from China’s Belt and Road. It was the first G7 economy to join Belt and Road. What a loss that would be.
Lithuania has withdrawn from the “16 + 1”, the Chinese pledge to try to separate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from the countries of Western Europe. These are the countries that need Chinese investment the most. They are much poorer. They want to make sure they have as much infrastructure support as possible. China has Viktor Orban in Hungary, but most Central and Eastern European countries now rely much more on EU redistribution, and support from Germany than they are from the Chinese and the Chinese government facilitated this change. .
In Canada, the two Michaels, who were detained for no legal and legitimate reason and were ill-treated, some say, were even tortured. It would be a fairly easy thing for the Chinese government to resolve as the Beijing Olympics approach. So far, they have shown no signs of doing so. When I look around the world right now, I see all kinds of efforts by the Chinese government, not only to go tit for tat with the American escalation, but also to make it easier for the United States to coordinate a competitor in escalation, Chinese policy with that of all kinds of American allies.
And so that leads to the question of why is this happening? Why is the Chinese government making it easier for the United States? Why do we see this plethora of advanced industrial democracies all over the world at the same time, showing that they themselves are more angry with China? And I would say there are several things at stake here. One is great confidence inside the Chinese leadership of the Chinese model. You saw it a bit after the 2008 financial crisis, the global financial crisis. And then, when the United States rebounded strongly, that largely disappeared.
But for months there was a lot of feeling that the American financial system was not working, Western capitalism was not working. Look at what the banks are doing, look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. We are doing better for our middle class. And so, we should move away from the dollar. We should create our own BRICS bank currency. Well, it became quite clear from the economic advisers to the Chinese leadership that this was very, very premature and wrong. And so they supported greater cooperation with the United States and the West.
This time around, after the coronavirus, where the Chinese economy was the only major economy in the world to grow in 2020, maybe it’s just an overhang of the feeling that China has done it right. And the United States and Europe couldn’t deal with it. And so they’re not going to accept that level of criticism. They have a lot more confidence that the model, the political model, the economic model, the technological model that is built to last, that is built to last, is the Chinese model, not the Western model.
And so to the extent that they’re going to recognize that they played too confident, too hard, it’s going to take longer because that level of confidence is a lot bigger, a lot more deeply rooted and ingrained than it was. in 2008, 2009. It’s definitely a part of it. A second piece of it. Perhaps this is because Xi Jinping has consolidated so much power today compared to five years ago, 10 years ago, that it is more difficult to do it well, but critical reports indicate that some of its policies are not successful.
We’ve certainly seen this in and around Russia with President Putin over the past few years, when he first became president, then prime minister, and then again president. He would demonstrate tremendous ability to understand the details of Russian foreign and defense policy, energy policy, privatizations, corporations, policies towards state-owned enterprises. Putin doesn’t do it as much anymore, and I suspect that’s partly because he no longer has either the interest or the people around him who are going to give him without a filter, without a blemish: “That’s what is really happening. ” If this is now starting to happen in China, then Xi Jinping, who calls the shots preponderance, actually thinks he’s doing a better job internationally than he actually is.
A bit of “the emperor has no clothes” is going on in China right now. And I’m sure there is at least part of it. And then the last point is that it could be more and more difficult for the Chinese government to admit at the national level that it was wrong, especially in the run-up to the Olympics, with the prospect of Xi Jinping. in search of his unprecedented third. term, becoming president for life. All of this implies that if you’re going to make a change, you go through your big meetings first, actually the equivalent of what a US election campaign would be, and then you take a softer approach.
I am sure that these three factors are at play. It is difficult to know how to weight them, but it seems to be a problem for the Chinese government, because right now the Biden administration and not just the G7, but also the Quad and even other developing democracies like the India, for example, some South Americans look at Beijing and are less confident that this is a model they want to protect themselves more from, despite the fact that the Chinese economy is doing quite well.
So an interesting question to think about. Something that I’m sure we’ll be paying a lot more attention to in the weeks and months to come. I hope everyone is safe, avoiding fewer people, and enjoying this move in the summer or in the southern hemisphere, the exact opposite. See you soon. Be wise.