The US-China summit

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Rarely has an international meeting contributed so much to illuminating the world political scene

"Compatriots, right now our forces and coalition forces are in the early stages of a military operation to disarm Iraq, free its people and defend the world from grave danger." It was the afternoon of March 19, 18 years ago, when President George W. Bush announced to the world the start of another war, which has not yet ended. The declaration of war made by Congress is still in force. But above all, the disastrous consequences of that war for Iraq and the Middle East (and the world) are not over either.

None of the three arguments used to attack Iraq were supported. As we know, the atomic weapons that, according to Bush, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the head of the Spanish government, José María Aznar, Saddam Hussein possessed, in fact did not exist. So neither was there this “grave threat” that the three seemed intent on ridding the world of. The other goal – to free the Iraqi people – does not appear to be a legitimate US government mandate.

Congressional authorization for the use of force in Iraq, granted in 2002, is still in effect as seen. Donald Trump manipulated this term to justify the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani in January of last year. And, although President Joe Biden did not invoke it, the attack on Syria, last February 25, under the pretext (or with the justification) that it was militias supported by Iran, was also carried out without authorization from Congress. , as recalled by the Democratic senator and former governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, and the representative of California, Barbara Lee, also a Democrat, in an article published last week.

Soleimani's assassination, lawmakers say, not only meant a threat of war against Iran - for which the president would need congressional approval - but also aroused anger in Iraq, a key ally in the Middle East. It provoked mass protests and a vote in the Iraqi parliament demanding the withdrawal of US troops from the country. Something that has not yet been accomplished.

The wars were promoted by others

That same day, in Anchorage, the Chinese delegation, meeting with their North American counterparts, reminded them that “the wars were promoted by others”. “We have just returned from a trip to Japan and South Korea, two of our closest allies,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart as he opened the Anchorage meeting last Thursday. “They are very interested in what we are going to discuss, because they are relevant issues not only for the region, but also for the world”, he added. “Including Chinese policy towards the autonomous region of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as cyber-attacks and economic pressures against our allies. All of these actions threaten a rules-based international order that guarantees stability in the world,” added Blinken.

The claims were reinforced by the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who added concern about the attack on fundamental values ​​of his country. “We've heard these concerns around the world, from our allies and partners to the wider international community, during the intensive consultations we've conducted over the past two months,” said Sullivan.

The head of the Central Commission for International Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, a diplomat with a long career, said: “What China and the international community defend is the international system established by the United Nations, not what a small number of countries claim, the so-called rules-based international order”. “The wars in the world”, he added, “were provoked by some other countries and left a vast number of victims”. “We are not in favor of the policy of invading other countries by the use of force, or of overthrowing other regimes by various means, nor of massacring people of other countries, because that only causes chaos and instability in the world. And, at the end of the day, none of this works for the United States either.”

“America needs to stop trying to impose its own democratic system on the rest of the world; the United States has its form of democracy, but China also has its form,” added Yang, who finally reminded Blinken that the two countries he had just visited are China's second and third largest trading partners. China, and that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), made up of 10 countries in the region, is now China's biggest trading partner, ahead of the United States and the European Union.

Betting against the United States

But if there is any particularly sensitive point in the relationship between the two parties, it is sovereignty and what China considers interference in its internal affairs. “Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan are inalienable parts of Chinese territory. China is firmly opposed to US intervention in our internal affairs. We express our resolute opposition to this interference and will take firm action in response.” For the Chinese delegation, there will be no compromise on the Taiwan issue, and the allegation of "genocide" in Xinjiang is "the biggest lie of the century".

The intervention was prolonged. With the press present, the harsh exchange was not foreseen. Yang reminded Blinken that the United States does not represent international public opinion, or even the western world. "I do not believe that the absolute majority of countries in the world recognize the universal values ​​claimed by the United States, nor do they recognize that the rules dictated by a small number of people in the world serve as the basis for the international order."

State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, insisted on the need for the United States to abandon its hegemonic practices of interference in China's internal affairs and recalled that, on the eve of his delegation's departure for the meeting in Anchorage, Washington approved new sanctions against 24 senior Chinese officials linked to Hong Kong. “We don't know if they made this decision thinking that it would give them an advantage in negotiations with China, but they are wrong. "This decision," Wang said, "only reveals the vulnerability and weakness of the United States."

Blinken decided to respond to the Chinese delegation's remarks before closing the opening session. He brought back the retreating press and told them that in his two months in office he had spoken to a hundred world leaders, in addition to making his first trip abroad to precisely two Asian countries. “What I heard is very different from what you claim”, he said, before ending his intervention, recalling a phrase by Biden, when he was Obama’s vice president: “It is never good to bet against the United States!”

The balance of power has changed

Asked as he left the room, Wang told the media that he felt compelled to linger on in his speech because of the tone adopted by Blinken: “Do you intend to speak to us condescendingly, from a position of strength? Is this how you intend to conduct this dialogue? The United States is in no position to address us from a position of strength. They will only harm themselves if they try to strangle the Chinese people,” he said.

At the end of the meeting the next day, without a joint statement, Wang reiterated that the United States should not underestimate China's determination to defend its sovereignty. He recalled that there will be no commitments on Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory, and urged the United States to respect the "one China" principle, which governs the country's relations with the rest of the world, to respect the three communiqués agreements signed by the two countries on the issue, and to put an end to official exchanges and military contacts with Taiwan, which they consider to violate the principle of recognition of "one China".

“Although this is not the first meeting between Chinese and Americans, the balance of power between the two countries has changed”, say Lara Jakes and Steven Lee Myeers in a note from the The New York Times, published from Anchorage on Friday. “For decades,” they add, “China approached the US government from a position of economic and military weakness. This forced them, albeit reluctantly, to sometimes accept American demands, whether it be freeing a human rights lawyer or accepting Washington's conditions for joining the World Trade Organization.

But things have changed. China now feels more confident to challenge the United States and promote its own vision of international cooperation. As Xi Jiping said,” recalls Jakes and Myeers, “The East is rising and the West is declining.”

calculated insults

Hopes that the Anchorage meeting could help improve bilateral relations, after years of tensions over trade, human rights and cybersecurity under Donald Trump, have evaporated, according to the correspondent of the The Guardian in Tokyo, Justin McCurry. New sanctions against senior Chinese officials, announced on the eve of the Anchorage meeting, have not made things any easier. “The United States coordinated a series of insults before the first face-to-face meeting between the two nations in the Biden administration,” said the Chinese news agency CGTN, in a report published on Thursday, the day of the opening of the meeting.

“Those hoping for a deal between Beijing and Washington after the erratic relationship in the Trump years were disappointed. Instead, the Biden administration chose the Alaska scenario to plunge the two countries' relationship into a permanent freeze," CGTN said. “Berating or giving ultimatums to Beijing will not work,” he added. Blinken announced sanctions against 24 Chinese officials, including a member of the political cabinet, senior police officials and members of the Chinese assembly, a gesture meaningless "except to express the US's disrespect for China", according to CGTN.

Washington no longer has the power to dictate its policies in Asia, whether to isolate the Chinese economy or impede its technological innovation. “More importantly,” adds the agency, “the world has lost confidence in the American model. The United States has not even been able to adequately address the Covid-19 pandemic, nor to address problems such as poverty, gun violence and the growing divide between the rich and the rest.”

China's Allies

The end of extreme poverty in China was one of the most outstanding achievements in the recent session of the People's Assembly, something that the Biden administration "arrogantly ignored", "imagining that Asian countries have more common interests with the United States than with China" , told CGTN. “But even staunch allies like Australia trade twice as much with China as they do with the United States”, to conclude by reminding Biden that the United States won the Cold War due to its enormous economic advantages over the Soviet Union, "a lesson it should learn before unleashing a new Cold War against China".

the liberal magazine The Economist, he also remembered this, in his own way. In an article titled “How to Deal with China,” he noted that some might think that the end of liberalism in Hong Kong, Asia's financial hub and home to $10 trillion in foreign investment, could trigger panic and capital flight. But not quite. On the contrary, Hong Kong enjoys a tree financial sector, with a record of transactions in dollars last year, which reached 11 trillion dollars.

For the magazine, it seems incomprehensible that, in an environment that it defines as “political oppression”, the same pattern of commercial effervescence could occur in mainland China. China produces 22% of the world's manufacturing exports and is the largest trading partner for 64 countries, compared to just 38 for the United States. Forced to decide, most of them could choose China over the United States, reckons the magazine.

Something that the Singaporean diplomat and academic, Kishore Mahbubani, had already foreseen when he published an article, last January, in which he explained why the attempt to build an anti-Chinese alliance in Asia will fail. Mahbubani was referring to the Biden administration's flagship initiative in Asia: the rebirth of the security dialogue with India, Australia and Japan, the so-called Quad. "The Quad will not change the course of Asian history for two simple reasons," said the Singaporean diplomat. First, because the four countries have different vulnerabilities and geopolitical interests. Second – and more important – because, in his opinion, the strategic challenge in the region is not military, but economic.

on this side of the world

While Washington plays its cards in the Asia-Pacific space, it is interesting to see how Latin America adapts to this new scenario. US interests, their worldview, are managed here by local political elites, the same ones that promoted the free trade agreements, that manage the “Lima group”, that control the OAS or the big media and the army in almost every country.

This is what makes this minority so powerful and creates a permanent internal political imbalance, as external intervention makes the development of an internal political balance impossible. Until today, what fueled this order was an idea: that there was no alternative, that the model offered, in the end, the possibility of enriching everyone.

The debate with China finally laid bare this illusion. It is much more difficult for today's conservative right to convince that “there is no alternative”, as they could have done in the 80s, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Its allies – the Bolsonaros, the Dukes, the Maritos, the Piñeras, the Lenín Morenos – are no longer able to assume their leadership role, to inspire almost anyone. Protests take place everywhere.

But permanent foreign political intervention makes it difficult to structure an alternative. Every time it is attempted, it is annihilated by force, leaving the countries of the region in a chaotic situation that now extends across the entire hemisphere, as the interminable long march of Central Americans to the northern border reminds Washington of all the days. Rarely has an international meeting – like this one in Anchorage – contributed to illuminating the world's political scene.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

 

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