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Op-Ed: China’s anti-sanctions law – Winding up the world the wrong way

Put simply – An enigmatic dragon will outperform predictable, rather cliché-ridden wolves anytime. This approach simply can’t work.

Put simply - An enigmatic dragon will outperform predictable, rather cliché-ridden wolves anytime. This approach simply can't work.
Put simply - An enigmatic dragon will outperform predictable, rather cliché-ridden wolves anytime. This approach simply can't work.

The New Cold War is becoming much like the original – Largely pointless. China’s new law is a reaction to sanctions imposed in response to China’s surprisingly flat-footed diplomacy and trade initiatives.

The new laws are in direct response to sanctions, notably US sanctions. Like the “grey zone war” in the South China Sea, the move is hardly reassuring. China seems to be doubling down on its previous positions, with no attempt to mitigate the fallout.

The new laws are effectively carte blanche to take action against businesses and individuals. These legal rights are in context with the sanctions imposed by their countries of origin. So people and businesses from the US or other nations could be expelled, have their assets seized, or other actions.

This situation was already in place. The law simply systematizes the legal processes. The problem is that the laws are likely to escalate international responses to China’s often vague, usually aggressive, geopolitical moves.

Odd? Yes, very.

What’s odd about China’s current strategic position is that it so clearly aggravates possible Chinese vulnerabilities. To create any situation where China’s vast global trade is directly impacted on a large scale is the obvious risk.

There could be any number of triggers which are already sensitive and possible flashpoints for major escalation of tensions:

Taiwan

The Great Bend dam

The South China Sea

The Belt and Road initiative

Any one or any combination of these issues could cause a move to more sanctions. The new law ups the ante on any outcomes, severely. Those outcomes must inevitably include sanctions.

The law has also challenged the sanctions, implying that not using sanctions is a win for China, The only other option is, of course, to impose sanctions. More escalation is the likely result.

There is a not-quite-good-enough analogy with Japan prior to World War 2. The US imposed sanctions on Japan which were the catalyst for Japan’s entry into the war. Ironically, the US sanctions were based on Japan’s invasion of China.

This analogy illustrates how easily sanctions can create international tensions to the point of war. China is arguably standing up for its rights in opposing sanctions – To a point. The problem with that is that China has also created these situations.

China’s long, tedious, “nagging” of Australia and its many irritating trade and diplomatic ramifications is a case in point.  Ceaseless nitpicking by China has made trade difficult, drastically deteriorated relations, and achieved nothing. This situation was created by China using the UN COVID inquiry as a pretext.

Since then, the two countries are barely on speaking terms. From the Australian perspective, there’s no point in arguing with someone else’s convenient delusions. From the Chinese perspective, there’s presumably something to be gained by being perceived as overreacting and laying down the law. It’s not clear what has been gained, but China and the ever-effervescent Global Times keep banging away on the subject.

China is building a large inventory of annoyed other countries at quite a speed. These types of threats and attempted intimidation don’t make friends.  If push comes to shove, those countries won’t need much encouragement to be anti-Chinese and act against China’s baseline interests.

…So what happens if China is seriously sanctioned?

Major sanctions, not yet seriously considered by anyone but obsessive anti-China advocates, could include:

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  • Food imports and exports
  • Trade orders shutdown
  • Assets in other countries seized or frozen
  • Finance and loans on the international level
  • Chinese businesses and individuals affected by sanctions

Sound familiar? It should. That’s exactly what the new Chinese laws are doing. There’s no opportunity for dialogue or managing specific situations in this sort of environment.

That’s why the new Chinese law is such an issue – There’s only one logical course of response; to aggravate the situation much more. There’s nothing to be said for a grey war where everybody loses.

Put simply – An enigmatic dragon will outperform predictable, rather cliché-ridden wolves anytime. This approach simply can’t work.

Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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