The U.S. now operates as a bulwark against time and history — a hopeless but destructive project.
By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News
We witnessed a major breach in trans–Pacific relations last week in consequence of Nancy Pelosi’s self-indulgent, utterly failed maunder through East Asia. We also watched a turn of great magnitude in global geopolitics, given China’s inevitable rise as a world power and America’s inevitable decline.
It may be — it is too soon to tell just yet — that last week’s events will prove to be enduringly momentous, warranting their own chapter in the history texts of the future.
I see good and bad in this, and in my view the former will outweigh the latter in the medium and long term.
As readers will know, I am always on for another failure in American foreign policy. House Speaker Pelosi just gave us the biggest and best we have seen in years, although the Ukraine mess is a contender for the title. Equally, I favor each step the non–West takes toward the condition of parity it seeks, and that I count as a 21st century imperative. We will see many of these in the post–Pelosi era, if I may call it that.
During the two-and-some hours Xi Jinping and Joe Biden spoke by telephone prior to the Pelosi misadventure, the Chinese president made a few points it is useful to note. Here is one, as Global Times, the English-language paper owned by People’s Daily, summarized the Foreign Ministry readout of the call:
“Faced with a world of change and disorder, the international community and the people around the world expect China and the U.S. to take the lead in upholding world peace and security and in promoting global development and prosperity. This is the responsibility of China and the U.S. as two major countries.”
The key thought there is joint responsibility, the duty the People’s Republic and the U.S., as the world’s most powerful nations, share toward the rest of the human community. I read it as some 5–to–midnight effort on Xi’s part to talk sense into Biden.
When Pelosi went ahead anyway, the breach was sudden. Apart from the live-fire military exercises, which we read Sunday are going to be held regularly, Beijing severed diplomatic relations with the U.S. in a range of areas — drug interdiction, illegal migrants, cross-border crime and so on. Among these, are several big ones: Talks on climate change and contacts on the defense side, at policy and operational levels, are canceled. So are consultations on maritime security.
In effect, Beijing has given up on the joint responsibility Xi urged Biden to think about. Any spirit of bilateral cooperation that survived the past several years of Washington’s diplomatic assaults, military provocations, and the whittling away of Washington’s commitment to the One China principle is now dead.
This noted, I do not read China’s move as an indication it intends to abandon its efforts on questions such as climate change or maritime security. Not at all. I anticipate it will act responsibly; it will simply not bother acting in any kind of concert with the U.S.
The dangers implicit in China’s policy response to Pelosi’s stupidity are obvious. The larger point is that, once again, a person who is of low intellect and unworthy of respect has tumbled the world into a completely unnecessary new era of tension, the bitter taste of which we are soon to know.
It has been clear for some time, as I have argued severally in this space, that Cold War II was to be a two-front proposition. The second front is now officially open, given the extent China has just severed ties with the U.S. We are beyond rhetoric and figures of speech now, and Cold War II will start to get expensive — for both sides, unfortunately.
China is sure to escalate its military modernization programs, especially in areas such as nuclear submarines, where it is weak relative to the U.S. Pentagon spending will rise commensurately, we can safely assume. This may be what the military-industrial complex and its clerks on Capitol Hill have sought all along. What good is a Cold War that consists mostly of words? There is no money to be made in words. Now comes the open-ended spending on hardware.
“We are beyond rhetoric and figures of speech now, and Cold War II will start to get expensive — for both sides, unfortunately.”
Americans are now on notice: The Chinese no longer want or expect anything from them. This is a very disadvantageous position for Americans to be in. Leverage, pressure, coercion, whatever you want to call it: The U.S. is in for a notable loss in these respects. Now that I am on the subject of self-inflicted damage, let us consider the rest of it.
The Biden regime’s thinking about China, such that it has been capable of any, has been amateurish as far back as the 2020 political campaigns. Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and the man they advised had this idea that they could cooperate with Beijing on serious but soft stuff such as climate change, compete with China on the economic side and confront China on security questions — Taiwan, the South China Sea, proliferation and related issues.
I invite readers to the comment thread because I would truly like to know: Is there any reason under the sun China should give this cockamamie notion — let’s work together while we threaten you right up to your shoreline — a second thought? If there is, Beijing missed it: The Chinese have never taken this silliness seriously. Look again at the list of areas where it just cut ties. It announces this openly while indicating that China no longer holds out any hope that the U.S. will grow up.
Another entry in the loss column: Nancy Pelosi just led America further down the road into the isolation the 21st century has in store for it given that its foreign policy cliques appear incapable of reading our time accurately.
Choosing a Side
The U.S. has for a long time tried to persuade, cajole, or coerce Asians to choose a side in the Sino–U.S. rivalry. This has so far resulted in a lot of humoring, parrying and hollow gesturing to keep the clumsy giant mollified. Pelosi’s tour through Asia — Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan — was a kind of put-up-or-shut-up moment. She made the with-us-or-against-us question concrete. And Asians shut up: None had anything favorable to say to the U.S. about the Taiwan crisis. We now know: East Asian “allies and partners” are simply not going to follow the U.S. into a dangerously adversarial standoff with China.
Now to the Europeans. Well, the British will follow the U.S. where wise men fear to tread because they have this restorationist “global Britain” dream in their heads. Do you think the European Union will back the U.S. in an open conflict over Taiwan — or in most other fights the U.S. is inclined to pick, for that matter? I see no chance of it.
What proportion of humanity does seem ready to cast its lot with the U.S. as trans–Pacific relations get hot in the way of U.S.–Russian relations? We cannot say with precision, but as a thumbnail measure, those nations refusing to recognize the sanctions regime Washington has led since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine account for two-thirds of global gross domestic product.
Assuming the U.S. policy cliques continue making their customary mistakes, and at this point I do, the Sino–U.S. breach Pelosi just made acute will force the same choice on this two-thirds of the planet that the Ukraine crisis has. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
The estimable Chas Freeman, the retired ambassador from whom I never stop learning, considers the just-noted percentage and reckons that as China continues to emerge as a global power, the Group of 7 advanced post-democracies will be eclipsed by an ever-more consequential Group of 20, in which China will figure prominently. I can’t stand the phrase “game-changer,” but for those who don’t mind it, Freeman is describing one.
As China gives up on the nation whose foreign policy has in recent years been reduced to playing the role of spoiler, work on the new world order often considered in this space is very likely to accelerate. Post–Pelosi ties between China and the Russian Federation will continue to elaborate and consolidate — this is more or less a given among those who think sensibly about the topic.
We will see rapid advances (another frequent topic in these columns) in the partnerships and trade and diplomatic arrangements — no formal alliances just yet — among non–Western nations in all hemispheres.
All to the good, the perils Pelosi has just inflicted upon us notwithstanding.
The U.S. now operates as a bulwark against time and history — a hopeless but destructive project. I do not think this is at all reductionist. China just emerged as the site where this contradiction is destined to be sharpest. Nancy Pelosi speaks for a power elite that simply does not like the 21st century and insists that, somehow, America can make the rest of the world remain with it in the 20th.
Don’t think so, actually.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.