No let up in cold war
What is Joe Biden up to? Daniel Lazare looks at the wild allegations against Xi Jinping and China
The US-China cold war has been simmering since at least 2016, when Beijing turned thumbs down on an international judicial ruling, denying it jurisdiction over a dozen or so low-lying islands and reefs in the South China Sea. But it has gotten hotter and hotter since Joe Biden took office on January 20 and let it be known that there would be no let-up in trade sanctions or a US propaganda offensive charging China with anti-Uyghur genocide in the western province of Xinjiang.
Now it is fairly boiling over. The latest escalation began on March 17, when the US imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese officials who have allegedly taken part in China’s political crackdown in Hong Kong. Two days later, a US-China mini-summit in Anchorage, Alaska, turned frosty when Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi accused America of condescension and hypocrisy and said that “the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated” as well. When Biden told a White House press conference on March 25 that President Xi Jinping “doesn’t have a democratic, with a small ‘d’, bone in his body” and that the showdown would continue as long as China “continues to so blatantly violate human rights”, Beijing retaliated by imposing sanctions of its own against two US officials - Gayle Manchin, wife of US Senator Joe Manchin, and Tony Perkins, president of the ultra-right Family Research Council, both of whom have played leading roles in the anti-China genocide campaign as members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Just to show that it was not picking on America alone, the People’s Republic also sanctioned Michael Chong - a conservative Canadian lawmaker who has accused China of “acts of genocide includ[ing] systematic population control, sexual violence, and mass detention” - along with three British MPs (ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith among them) and two members of the House of Lords, all members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
When the European Union sanctioned four Chinese officials accused of taking part in the anti-Uyghur campaign, China retaliated by sanctioning 10 Europeans, including the centre-left journalist, Raphaël Glucksmann, a member of the European Parliament since 2019, plus four European organisations.
“Their actions have reminded people of the history of the Eight-Nation Alliance,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, referring to the imperial powers who suppressed China’s Boxer Rebellion in 1900-01. “But China is no longer what it was 120 years ago. No-one should offend the Chinese people.”
Two things are clear: one is that nationalism is exploding under Xi Jinping, who took over the presidency in 2013; the other is that Biden’s “America is back” rhetoric about resurgent US hegemony is running into major roadblocks in a half-dozen or more hotspots around the globe.
In Yemen, for example, despite - or perhaps because of - US efforts to extricate itself from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war, fighting is intensifying as Iran-backed Houthi forces close in on the town of Marib, about a hundred miles east of Sana’a, the country’s last remaining pro-Saudi stronghold. If Marib falls, the Houthis may well carry their offensive across the border into Saudi Arabia itself, leaving the US little choice but to put aside its differences with the Saudi royal family and plunge again into the anti-Houthi war.
In Afghanistan, it is all but certain that the US will disregard the May 1 deadline for withdrawal that Donald Trump negotiated early last year and step up its military presence there as well. In Russia, Biden’s ludicrous March 19 comment calling Vladimir Putin a “killer” - actually, it was journalist George Stephanopoulos who used the word, while Biden nodded his head and said yes - has backfired by sending the Russian president’s domestic popularity soaring, as even the Russophobic Washington Post is now forced to admit.1
In Germany, relations are in serious trouble, as the US attempts to block final construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and also tries to push Berlin into joining the anti-China crusade. US arguments against the pipeline are going nowhere for at least three reasons:
- because Nord Stream 1 has operated without incident since 2011 and has done nothing to enhance Russian political leverage over the European Union;
- because the US stance is obviously self-serving, since the only alternative is to ship liquefied natural gas from Texas, 5,000 miles away;
- because America’s other main concern is that allowing Russia to bypass pipelines in the Ukraine will deprive that country’s broken economy of gas transshipment fees that are its last remaining source of revenue (even though they would only disappear in a swamp of corruption, if allowed to continue).
So all that America is accomplishing is to irritate Germany all the more. As for China, chancellor Angela Merkel has made it “absolutely clear” that the EU and US share “no identity” with regard to Beijing and that Germany does not think much about US concerns that allowing Chinese hi-tech giant Huawei to help build a 5G network will compromise German national security.2
These are not minor disturbances. Germany is aware that it cannot leave Russia out in the cold, no matter how much Washington might wish otherwise. It is also aware that with China’s trans-Eurasian Belt and Road initiative racing ahead, it cannot afford to turn its back on a new avenue in world trade.
Such attitudes are not confined to the political elite. On the contrary, a poll of 15,000 people in 11 European countries last November and December found that 60% favour neutrality with regard to China, 59% favour neutrality with regard to Russia, while 48% of respondents in France, 43% in Italy, 38% in Germany and 27% in Great Britain favour a tougher stance towards America on economic issues. Sixty percent, moreover, think China will emerge as the world’s leading superpower in the coming decade, while 61% say that the entire American political system is broken - and this was before the January 6 mob assault on the US Capitol.3
In other words, Biden may say America is back, but reality suggests otherwise. The more he pounds his frail and skinny chest, the more off-putting the performance becomes.
What is going on? Simply that American power is indeed slipping, and while Democrats would like to put the blame on Trump, it is clear that the process began years before. Indeed, it goes back a full generation to the 1991 Gulf War, when an American-led coalition devastated an Iraqi army equipped with the latest Soviet military equipment and, in the process, triggered the final collapse of the USSR. Richard Nixon wrote that “not just the Soviet military, but the political leaders, were shocked by our brilliant and quick military victory in the Gulf”, while Saddam Hussein, for one, predicted that a unipolar world was on its way, with the US firmly in the lead.4
That was the high point. But from then on it was all downhill. The US suffered a bloody nose on 9/11, which George W Bush and Tony Blair made a thousand times worse with their inept and duplicitous response. By 2003, the United States thus found itself bogged down in classic quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eight years later, Barack Obama compounded the damage by allowing secretary of state Hillary Clinton to organise a Nato air war that would reduce Libya to misery and chaos; to work with Saudi Arabia to arm and finance a jihadi invasion that would have the same effect in Syria; and finally, in March 2015, to join with the Saudis in launching an air war against Yemen that would result in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. According to the latest UN projections, nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five will suffer acute malnutrition in 2021 due to the war and 400,000 may well die if emergency relief is not forthcoming.5
These are the highest levels of acute malnutrition since the war began. Yet Biden thinks he can undo the damage and turn the clock back to the halcyon 1990s merely by jawboning - an idea that could not be more ludicrous. Chinese power is mushrooming, Russia has shown itself to be a deft and nimble actor on the world stage, while a recent 25-year cooperation agreement between China and Iran could well prove to be a Middle East game-changer. Regardless, a top-ranking US admiral is still calling for a $23 billion, five-year naval build-up in the eastern Pacific, even though the effect would be to render the US more vulnerable to Chinese “carrier-killer missiles” rather than less.6 Since all it takes is one two-stage, solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile like the Dong-Feng 21 to set off a conflagration, the United States could well be blundering into disaster.
This is what happens when a global empire is stretched far and thin. Not only does defending distant outposts become increasingly difficult, but the rationale for doing so grows more and more strained. “Our alliances were created to defend shared values,” secretary of state Antony Blinken recently tweeted following a Nato meeting in Brussels. “Renewing our commitment requires reaffirming those values and the foundation of international relations we vow to protect: a free and open, rules-based order.”7 So is that why the US is now preparing to go to war - to protect ‘shared values’? Where once the US vowed to make the world safe for democracy, its new goal is to safeguard a rules-based order, whose primary purpose, as everyone knows, is to advance US economic interests.
As for China’s alleged genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs, the charges are based on flimsy evidence cooked up by ultra-rightists and Islamists linked with al Qa’eda.8 While no-one suggests that a Stalino-capitalist state like China is a model when it comes to minority rights, charges that it is seeking the ultimate solution as far as 12.8 million people in Xinjiang are concerned have more to do with propaganda and the threat of inflation than with anything resembling factual accuracy.
Biden’s relationship to the truth is as casual as Trump’s. As a result, the administration continues to barge ahead regardless. The more it does, the more it risks falling flat on its face.
See my article, ‘America’s Chernenko’ Weekly Worker March 25.↩︎
See my article, ‘Uyghurs: why now?’ Weekly Worker March 18.↩︎