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article imageOp-Ed: Russia and China vs America — Not looking good

By Paul Wallis     Jul 21, 2019 in World
New York City - The latest meeting of Presidents Putin and Xi ha highlighted a changing international landscape in which America is losing its influence in many ways. Where's this mess going? A lot of people would like to know.
The situation is looking very difficult for the US in so many ways. At the moment, it’s more a question of possibilities, but US prestige and influence are suffering. reconnection of China and Russia in the face of Trump’s highly digressive confrontationist America First doctrine is a real issue. This isn’t the Cold War reborn; it’s a much more complex range of issues, on multiple fronts. American moves have made little impact.
The rivalry has moved a long way from the old Cold War. This conflict isn’t about “hegemony”, or even a particularly military range of issues. The issues are economic, trade, finance, international influence and other areas in which America formerly reigned supreme.
America has been surprisingly slow to develop a strategy, and much slower in terms of effective responses. What responses there have been, have managed relatively minor achievements.
American policy was focused on “containing China” for about a decade, and it’s not hard to see how that panned out. The results have been negligible at best, and just embarrassing at worst.
For example – China has been putting a lot of people on the ground building much-needed infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. Australia and the United States cobbled together an aid package for some other projects which is basically a drop in the bucket in this capital-hungry region. This rather feeble response was directed at countering China’s influence in the region, which is multi-layered and uses big money to get results.
US policy regarding Russia has been hopelessly confused. Even after Russian citizens were indicted for interference in the US elections of 2016, the Trump administration can’t be said to have taken any measures at all against Russia.
The Too Hard Basket
US responses have left quite a lot of issues hanging, mainly because they’re apparently too hard to manage:
• The South China Sea: No amount of “navigation” by the US Navy has impacted China’s position.
• South East Asia: China’s presence in the region through trade was already huge. Additional money seems to be moving in, quietly. This is a huge emerging market, full of very savvy businesspeople. America’s fading influence isn’t of interest unless there’s some cash attached.
• The Belt and Road initiative: This huge project is basically joining southern Asia at the hip to China, with clear financial benefits for a swathe of nations in the region.
• Europe: The Chinese and Russian relationships with Europe are practical, rather than political. Trust and hostility don’t mix well, but the trade ties and basic political positions aren’t influenced by American policy any more, at least not noticeably.
• The Crimea: The Russian takeover of the Crimea has had no real response, effective or otherwise. Pushing a few troops here and there has had no impact at all, except to give Russia a topic of conversation on slow news days.
Military issues, real and imagined
In the military sphere, the US is in the position of a blindfolded bull. Powerful as it is, the US military is seriously hamstrung by a top-heavy acquisitions environment, mindless accountancy like the ridiculous USS Zumwalt penny-pinching exercise, and the F35 “flying credit card” controversies.
The US is its own worst enemy in military superiority. The theory of technological superiority is well understood, but it now comes with a bandwagon of hangers-on and bizarre bureaucracy of various kinds. The net impression is that proper support for the military is OK, provided it’s profitable.
Rather strange military situations have monotonously arisen in recent US wars. The absurd theory of “boots on the ground on principle”, when in most cases the US military can strike and leave when it wants is a case in point. (What’s the point of having a gigantic navy and air capacity if you just wind up in foxholes fighting over some bit of dirt, anyway?) It’s an expensive hobby, in lives as well as money, and more to the point, it doesn’t work.
Russia and China have a very different approach. Their military forces are nowhere near as big, but they’re sustainable, up to date, and pretty agile. It’s hard to imagine present-day Russia or China indulging in any of their prior mistakes, like Korea or Afghanistan.
The theory of “projecting power” has a few problems for Russia and China, but unlike the US, their problems are much simpler, simply due to not committing all over the world. Russian forces generally don’t go far from home. They’re well within easy support range at all times. Chinese forces tend to be in a defensive posture at all times, if sometimes a bit blunt about it.
The US and Russian and Chinese military strategies are diametric opposites. The Russians and Chinese don’t need to “confront” anyone. They’re not about to start a shooting war when they’re winning the peace, either. They have nothing to gain from a confrontation, and plenty to gain from their current positions.
America’s cooling friendships
A feature of the Trump administration is its unique ability to antagonize allies. This clumsy, boorish approach appeals to nobody. Realistically, America’s allies combined don’t have the military power of the US, or its economic power. However- Allies on all six continents are hardly falling over themselves to help the administrations incessant vague foreign policy positions. The US does need to have a working relationship with a lot of nations for its deployments and economic initiatives to work properly, or in some cases, at all.
One of the reasons for this lack of enthusiasm, apart from the insufferable brattish behaviour, is that a policy statement can be Tweeted in to a whole new configuration in seconds. Policies and positions come and go like corn flakes. The very unimpressed vision of US policies by allies was documented in UK ambassador Darroch. If that’s the official report, what’s the unofficial view? Diplomats know how to be tactful. If they’re not tactful, there’s a reason for it.
The trade war with China
It says much that so many people seem to feel the need to say that the US tariffs war is “hurting China”. Really? How? Reduced exports? China has the rest of the world as a potential customer. Reduced manufacturing? The PMI index has been used for years to prove China’s economic growth is slowing. It’s pulled back from double digit growth calculated off a low historical base, and that’s about all.
As a “war”, it’s more of a money-grubbing exercise. The tariffs are paid by importers, not the Chinese. (That added hit on American businesses must have looked good to someone.) Volumes of trade are possible indicators, but nobody’s saying what Chinese imports are getting “frozen out” by the trade war. That’s because they’re not being frozen out at all, unless a lot of stuff is going unreported. That’d be rather strange in an environment where any favourable news is hyped to the skies, wouldn’t it?
By 2024 at the latest, Trump will be out of office. The state of play between the three nations will have evolved, but how? Almost certainly, more of the same will have occurred. Russia and China are profiting from US policies in so many ways.
The US will have a LOT of fence-mending and catching up to do. A lot of damage to US prestige, respect and credibility has been done by the scattergun policies of this administration. US foreign policy and positions are looking very like Trump’s Atlantic City Version 2.
If there’s one common factor in global history regarding international relations, it’s this: “IGNORANCE IS NEVER AN OPTION”. By 2024, we’ll find out exactly how ignorant the US response to Russia and China has been.
Meanwhile, check out the global “media” on the subject of Russia and China fighting a war against each other. Won’t happen. (Russia just sold China a lot of SU 35 combat planes, for example. They’re not that stupid, and they’re doing very nicely, thanks for asking, all due to US policies and “political culture”, that ever-reliable contradiction in terms.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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