US allies

Image: Wendy Maxwell


In the terms in which the “national security” of the USA is defined, its protection grows at the pace of the destruction of the sovereignty, economy and freedom of its “allies”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi once said that the formula used by the European Union to manage its relations with China is “impractical”, “it is like driving a car to an intersection and looking at the traffic lights and see the yellow, green and red lights on at the same time.” I would say more... In addition to the confusion with the indications provided by the traffic lights, the driver – only for the Chinese – still has to pay attention to nails, oil and holes in the road, which can lead to a skid or damage to the vehicle.

And who would cause such dangers on the route? Given the desperation of the actors involved and the unidirectional nature of the actions... Consequently, the exasperated and catastrophist tone that we find in the Western press, as opposed to a more triumphalist tone that was still in force six months ago (not so much), tells us everything that we need to know. It's incredible how Western emotions are in an uproar, going from one extreme to the other, in very short periods.

From the certain victory in Ukraine against Russia, we moved on to widespread panic, in which Sullivan, Biden, Borrel or Macron, who even saw themselves bathing in the good waters of Crimea in September, have now become certain that the Russian troops will not stop at the Dniepr and perhaps not at the Danube, Rhine or Elbe.

During 2023 we all witnessed the unstoppable succession of predictions of a fall in the Chinese economy – the Russian economy was already “in pieces”, let us remember –, and now panic arises with the flood of high-quality, low-cost products, with which the West Lazy people can't even dream of competing. It is happening in automobiles, as well as in semiconductors, agricultural machines, discovering, little by little, through the hysterical tone of Janet Yellen and Antony Blinken, that if something is falling, that something is American hegemony, whose containment strategies, even now, they have only resulted in even stronger and more capable adversaries.

After all, it is hard work that shapes character. The Western rentier capitalist elite is too used to easy money from royalties to be able to compete with those who never abandoned industry, agriculture and truly productive activities.

The fact is that, in the The Washington Post, David Ignatius, researcher linked to the largest Think thanks of the United States, based on work by the Rand Corporation itself, says that analysts say that the USA is entering a decline from which few powers have recovered; It is also RAND that provides us with an article entitled “USA and China rivalry in a new middle ages”, pointing to the need for decision-makers to develop a neo-medieval mentality, namely, having to wage war knowing that the “public” doesn't want it.

Borrel says that the US is no longer hegemonic and that China has already become a superpower, something that Brezinsky promised would never happen again; or, even, statistical data on the North American economy say that it grew only 1.6% in the first quarter of 2024, which shows a slowdown in relation to expectations. A big slowdown, considering the 2.7% that is predicted by US transmission chains such as the IMF.

Interestingly, it is from RAND itself that the most informed advice comes. In his study “The Fates of Nations” (the destinies of nations), two reflections are suggested that, considering the content and current affairs, have no other destiny than the political power based in Washington: (i) When nations are between victory in war or collapse national (between a rock and a hard place, I say), the punitive and coercive imposition of conditions does not constitute an adequate path to success in rivalries; (ii) excessive ambition and oversized strategic scope contributes to many types of failures.

These reflections are the current portrait of the USA: wanting to extend everywhere, they begin to open cracks in the center, because the greater the extension of the surface, the smaller the thickness of the coverage; taking positions of strength in all situations – threatening all contenders with sanctions – causes flight and aversion of those involved and those who may be the target of these actions.

If we add to this the fact that, according to several sources, Donald Trump's team of advisors has proposed the application of penalties to countries that want to reduce dependence on the dollar, it is clear that 2024 will be a terrible year for the largest currency world reserve. For now, gold has never been so high and almost 1/3 of the oil traded in 2023 will be in currencies other than the dollar. If I were president of any country, I would do everything I could to reduce dependence until Donald Trump takes office, considering that Joe Biden's re-election prospects are not the most enthusiastic.

Faced with this reality, what does Washington do? Not being able to position itself in this multipolar world under construction and not being able to adopt a cooperative and respectful approach to other states, preferring to focus on “a competition between great superpowers”, in the opposite direction to what is proposed, for example, by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his report “The United States Policy Challenge”, the administration headed by Joe Biden operates as if it still had all the power on its side and, lacking the strength it normally counted on, it adopts the stance of sabotage, disruption and provoking instability in the “business environment” of its own “allies”, particularly when they find themselves between China and the “national security” needs of the USA.

If, in Mexico, threats have been made – no one has confirmed them – against López Obrador's government, if it persists in its intention to allow the installation of BYD factories, so that they can use the exemption from customs duties applicable to the free trade agreement, USMCA trade. It is the USA itself that unilaterally denies that the rules agreed between three countries, after all, no longer apply to Mexico, without the latter, supposedly party to the agreement, having a say. If this situation does not demonstrate who is really in charge, when a country signs an “agreement” with the USA…

This process of disruption, which aims to make it impossible for Chinese companies to set up shop, is taken so seriously that even a country like Portugal can be caught in the net and see its economy deeply affected by North American intervention and interference.

Let's look at the case of the oil company GALP, a privatized company with 51% of the capital held by US “institutional investors”. First, we saw the news that the 8th largest oil well in the world, located in eastern Africa, more specifically on the coast of Namibia, had been concessioned “to Portugal”. Specifically, the oil well had been concessioned, not “to Portugal”, but to GALP, it would have been “to Portugal”, if the company was still public (only 8% are). The company is managed by a Portuguese oligarch family, whose holding company “Amorim Energia”, which holds 35,8% of the capital, is based in the Netherlands.

It is worth saying that it would be more correct to say that 80% of the exploration of the 8th largest oil well in the world was concessioned, not “to Portugal”, but “to the Netherlands”. And, although the Amorim family manages the company, the capital is held by an overwhelming majority of North American, English and Canadian capital (75,2% in total). We've seen who's really in charge.

This same GALP, whose transition program towards sustainable energies and sectors, envisaged a progressive move away from fossil fuels, has now announced that it has abandoned the proposal to install a lithium refinery in the south of Portugal. Does GALP, a private company that pursues profits, do without a refining and lithium business, largely financed by European and Portuguese funds and with a guaranteed market?

Let us not forget that the ultimate objective would be, with taxpayers' money, to guarantee GALP entry into a strategic sector from the point of view of “sustainable” industries, and with guaranteed profitability, as lithium would also be explored in Portugal, refined in Portugal and installed in batteries, in Portugal. Guaranteed extremely profitable business with important development know-how. This explains why GALP accessed the 8th largest well in the world and why it has now come to say that, after all, the decarbonization objectives will have to be postponed. What do these people care about “climate change”!

For Portugal, this project was fundamental, as it would close the production cycle and electric vehicles within borders. From lithium mining to production and electric cars, everything would be done in Portugal. However, there was a catch to this ambitious project. This project, which is one of the most important to be financed under the European Union's Recovery and Resilience Plan for the country, was based on the production of batteries through the installation of a Chinese CALB factory, which has already been approved by the previous government. , which suffered, curiously, a legal blow of “lawfare”, after which another government was elected, supposedly with different ideas, on this matter. The future will tell us whether they differ, or whether money will end up speaking louder.

Once again, we will have to listen again to what the US ambassador in Portugal said about the businesses in which Washington would not welcome China's entry. Not looking favorably is an understatement, as we know. Lithium, personal data, ports and 5G.

This is how a small country, like Portugal, was caught in the middle of a tectonic dispute between superpowers, in which the still hegemonic power develops a process of destruction of the “business environment” applicable to its competitor. As we know, history doesn't say much about those who are always on defense, and so they became more and more closed. But those are other accounts.

This example integrates within itself all the complexity, fallacy and aggressiveness of the “decoupling”, which when translated by Ursula von der Leyen into the “language of the European Union”, became “derisking”. It also demonstrates how, in the European Union, the USA is in charge and how being, today, anchored to the European Union, and everything it represents, constitutes, in fact, a serious brake on development. Portugal, like Mexico, like Germany, Spain, France and all of Europe, see investment projects that could keep Europe industrialized closed, boycotted and destroyed. Just because they are designed with Chinese companies.

Perhaps even then the Chinese CALB will not give up its factory in Portugal. However, this predictable foreign interference will not fail to reduce the company's expectations of future profitability and, above all, create a brake on its competitiveness for better prices. Symptomatically, this continued sabotage of the European economy and “allied countries” is based mainly on technologies that the USA intends to dominate. In this context, know that Wolkswagen made an agreement with the Chinese company Xpeng, and that a German brand factory is also located in Portugal. We can't help but smell the traditional US persecution of the German economy, which suffered a severe setback with the destruction and closure of Nord Stream and what was left of it. Everything becomes interconnected again.

What this case proves is that, today, in the West and especially in territories somehow controlled by the tentacles of US monopoly power (the Portuguese case proves the importance of the public nature of companies like GALP), they are limited to business that they are unable or unwilling to sabotage or destroy.

If they are their own think thanks and research institutes suggesting to the North American political elite that the best approach would be cooperation, respect for other people's sovereignties and, above all, not trying to reach everywhere, it is not for lack of grounded knowledge that these elites behave in a wild form. Its very clear objective is to create an environment that is so insecure, unpredictable and erratic for Chinese companies that they abandon their intention of establishing themselves and trading with Europe and Latin America, without being able to say- It is clear that the US itself sabotaged the economic development of countries that claim to be allies.

The means used range from unilaterally changing rules, their own rules, to promoting agendas such as “decoupling” or the “derisking”, or, if necessary, and as Nord Stream proves, proceed with the direct destruction of support infrastructures, subversion of democracies through the organization of judicial coups and color revolutions, threats of sanctions and other penalties. In the last resort, a war is even promoted, as is being done in Ukraine and is now being attempted in Taiwan.

And this is how everything that was said before is refuted, about open markets that close when at a disadvantage or open when there is a guarantee that only the hegemonic power will win them; climate agendas that are priorities, but are quickly abandoned when defined accumulation cycles are at stake; respect for the sovereignties of other countries, which are protected when approaching rivals are at stake and are unprotected when it comes to defending US dominance.

In the terms in which the “national security” of the USA is defined, its protection grows at the pace of the destruction of the sovereignty, economy and freedom of its “allies”. Being an “ally” with the USA does not guarantee immunity against economic interference, subversion and sabotage, quite the opposite. It guarantees that this interference is carried out more easily, as the traditional defenses that result from national sovereignty do not exist. To be a friend of the USA today is to watch its own destruction and remain silent.

With friends like these… Who needs enemies?

*Hugo Dionísio is a lawyer, geopolitical analyst, researcher at the Studies Office of the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP-IN).

Originally published in Strategic Culture Foundation

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