03.08.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Asian Leg of Deputy Secretary of State’s Tour


The overseas tour of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, which began on July 18, is unprecedented for US diplomatic practice in recent times regarding its length and geography. Only Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, now the main geopolitical opponent of the United States, can compete with Ms. Wendy Sherman in this.

The increased activity of the foreign ministries of both major world powers fits into the general trend of the growing importance of diplomacy and economics in securing the goals they pursue in the international arena.

Moreover, the awareness of this trend began a long time ago in Washington, probably during the first presidential term of Barack Obama. This, for example, has to do with the measures of his administration to drastically reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan. This trend was confirmed while the Republicans were in power (despite all of Trump’s “anti-Obama” rhetoric) and apparently took shape with the return of the Democrats to the leadership of the United States.

This trend in Washington’s foreign policy was documented during the recent European tour of President Joe. Biden, which logically ended with the results of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wendy Sherman, who was confirmed as the first US Deputy Secretary of State on April 14 this year, is well suited to implement the outlined foreign policy of the current US administration. A unique feature of her career is the combination of teaching and diplomatic practice in company with such iconic figures of American foreign policy as Hillary Clinton, William Burns, John Kerry.

Sherman was involved in preparing one of the most important international documents, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2015, which seemingly resolved the problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program. From this agreement, however, the US had already been withdrawn in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump. It appears, however, that the administration of Joe Biden is updating this document.

Wendy Sherman is in some ways a member of the feminist movement but apparently not of its most “stubborn” wing. Notable in this regard were her earlier calls to America’s closest allies in Asia, Japan and the Republic of Korea, to moderate their mutual rhetoric over the notorious “comfort women” issue, which goes back a pretty long way. For which she received caustic remarks from (seemingly) sisters-in-arms.

The problem of Japan-South Korea relations in the context of the long-standing USA-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral alliance project was at the center of the initial stage of the Asian part of Sherman’s tour under discussion.

However, for this purpose, whoever went from Washington to Tokyo and Seoul in the last 20 years. As recently as March of this year, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, current Chief Wendy Sherman and the US Secretary of Defense, visited Japan and the Republic of Korea. The fact of practically zero results of all this fuss by Washington in the above sense is stated in Beijing, not without satisfaction. Sherman’s visit to the two countries did not bring anything fundamentally new to the current picture of Japan-South Korea relations.

Her further stopping point on tour under discussion is no less interesting. We are talking about Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, to which she flew from Seoul. It is by no means accidental because, after the actual withdrawal of Post-Soviet Russia from this country (as well as from the territories of other former USSR allies) at the end of the Cold War, the political and economic “gaps” formed in Mongolia began to be filled by other major players.

In the economic sphere, China became the prominent “deputy” of the USSR. While broadly interpreted politics (that is, with a significant presence of defense elements in it), one of the leading “deputies” turned out to be the United States. The troubled history of Sino-Mongolian relations aids this. Recall that only one-third of all Mongolians live in present-day Mongolia, and two-thirds are citizens of the People’s Republic of China, constituting a minority population in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. That is one of the five special administrative units of modern China.

Whatever it is, Mongolia’s foreign policy is based on the so-called third neighbor policy, which is designed to overcome the specifics of the country’s geography. It is often presented as the “stuffing of a sandwich” (another popular term), in which Mongolia is sandwiched between its two great neighbors, China and the Russian Federation. The very policy ascribed to American political science does not suggest any single contender for the role of the third neighbor. Among them may be, for example, the same Republic of Korea, Japan, India, and even Turkey.

But the main de facto is undoubtedly the United States. Suffice to mention Khaan Quest Field Training Exercises with American participation, which since the early part of the 21st century have been held regularly in the Ömnögovi aimag adjacent to the border with the People’s Republic of China. So another honored American guest of the Mongolia leadership had good reason for a kind of “audit” of the state and prospects of relations with a very important neighbor of the main geopolitical opponent. More precisely, both at once.

Among the notable moments during the events with Sherman’s participation in Ulaanbaatar, which the Spokesperson for the US Department Ned Price commented on her visit to the local “LGBT center.” That is, modern Ulaanbaatar is quite in line with advanced socio-political trends, which must be making Genghis Khan roll over in his grave.

However, the tomb of the great conqueror has not yet been found, and the author would not recommend that his current descendants especially persistently “look for it,” for example, as part of the same Khaan Quest Exercise.

China, that is, the main geopolitical opponent of the US, which has become the centerpiece of the entire Asian part of the discussed tour of Sherman, does not consider it necessary to acquire such “advanced attributes.” Attributed by Washington to Beijing in recent years along with the “genocide of the Uyghurs,” the “suppression of freedoms” in Hong Kong and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and “threats to freedoms” in Taiwan.

Judging by the preliminary information of the State Department, which, in particular, contained references to the “US interests and value”, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi probably had to listen “the usual” claims in Tianjin (where the meeting with the distinguished guest from the United States took place).

As for the comments of the Chinese side on the last meeting, three issues can be highlighted. The first is due to the refusal, since Anchorage, to listen to lectures on various kinds of problems, which China considers exclusively internal. The second is related to the statement that there are no threats to other countries (in particular, the USA) in the fact of comprehensive growth of the People’s Republic of China. The third is a willingness to engage in constructive dialog with Washington on an equal footing.

As the final stage (with an intermediate stop in Oman) of a long foreign tour by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, talks were scheduled in Geneva with the Russian side on strategic stability. A month earlier, the presidents of both countries in the Geneva meeting agreed on the need for such talks.

We may be witnessing an attempt to restart the “reset” of US-Russian relations. Recall that ten years ago, such an attempt made by Hillary Clinton, that is, the then boss of Wendy Sherman, unfortunately, resulted in “an overload”. And now today, we must consider the radical changes that have taken place in the world over the past decade.

Of these, the main ones are due to China’s emergence as a global power, with which strong bilateral relations now link the Russian Federation. They should not be harmed in any way during the (hypothetical) “Reset 2.0”.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.