Earlier, the NEO discussed the forecasts by representatives of Chinese academia of a possible scenario for the development of relations in 2024 between the two current leading world powers, i.e. the United States and China, which were presented by the Global Times at the end of last year. We would like to emphasise once again that the nature of changes on the table of the “Great World Game” as a whole will depend on this scenario.
The results of the work carried out by the newspaper’s editorial staff were expressed in two words: “stabilisation” and “uneven”. These are responsible words (especially the first one) in conditions of almost continuous growth of negativity in almost all spheres of bilateral relations over the last few years. Starting from trade and economic and all the way to the security sphere with its mutual “missile-attack-aircraft-carrier” demonstrations. As well as “footsteps” on various international political and diplomatic platforms.
The validity of using such words requires illustration by some concrete facts. And already in the second half of last year such facts appeared. The main one, of course, was the fact of resumption of contacts both at the highest level and through a number of important agencies. The year that has barely begun has also provided new evidence of this kind. These, moreover, contained a remarkable symbolism.
The first and most significant evidence of this was the trip to the United States in the first decade of January by a delegation from the International Relations Department of the CPC Central Committee, headed by its head, Liu Jianchao. The Chinese guests’ interlocutors at the talks in New York were experts and the leadership of the Asia Society (Asia Society), established in the fifties of the last century by the Rockefeller House.
A brief historical background seems appropriate here. It is quite possible to assume that through the efforts of this “non-governmental” organisation the political strategy in the Chinese direction was formed, which (having been implemented by the then Secretary of State G. Kissinger) ended in the early 70s with the signing of the famous “Shanghai Communiqué“. This was a turning point not only in bilateral relations, but also in the process of the global conflict called “Cold War”, which significantly (perhaps decisively) predetermined the nature of its end.
By the way, today in the U.S. there is often expressed a viewpoint according to which the victory in the “Cold War” (in no small measure due to this event of 50 years ago) over a longer period of time acquires only a tactical character, and the former (almost) ally becomes the main geopolitical opponent. Which, of course, was not foreseen 50 years ago.
However, no one asked such a question at that time. And even if they did, the maximum that their imagination could do would be to predict the onset of universal prosperity after the defeat of the main “source of evil”, which at that time was the USSR. Today it may cause surprise, but this delusion was embodied at the turn of the 80-90s in the form of the concept of “the end of history”.
By the way, and to the question of the price of today’s fashionable forecasts of the future of different remoteness, one recalls that “rich man who had a good harvest”. The relevant parable is all the more relevant in the current conditions of cardinal breakdown of the world order (brief) of the “post-Cold War period”. In such times it is a thankless task to make predictions. One can turn to astrology, tarot cards or a street gypsy with no less efficiency. You can also read the forecasts (more precisely, “risks for 2024”) of the Eurasia Group consulting company. However, persons with a delicate nervous system and at night it is better not to do this.
In general, today G. Kissinger is remembered in the United States without any piety (to put it very mildly).
However, we digress. So, the interlocutors of the Chinese guests who arrived in New York at the beginning of January this year, sitting both opposite at the negotiating table and next to each other on chairs during the process of joint photography, were not only cabinet scholars writing their works on current topics of the political situation in Asia (where the focus of global processes is shifting), but also, for example, former Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs D. Russell. This, as well as the fact that the top functionaries of the CPC are actually representatives of the Chinese state, apparently allowed the organisers of the event to designate the format of the talks as “Track 1.5 Dialogue”. That is, it was almost official in nature.
It should be noted that at the current stage of the “Big World Game” the American rhetoric directed towards the next main geopolitical opponent is dominated by the thesis according to which all the “troubles” coming from it are caused by the fact that “Chinese communists” are at the head of the country. A special committee set up last spring in the lower house of Congress is engaged in an uncompromising struggle against them.
And lo and behold. The very same “Chinese Communists” appeared in New York, with whom, in addition, negotiations, albeit “semi-official”, were held. The associations with the mentioned events of 50 years ago, when in Beijing the same G. Kissinger and the then U.S. President R. Nixon talked with the most important “Chinese communists” (which were then Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai).
Such associations are involuntarily strengthened by the news that in December last year there was a mutual exchange of visits of university ping-pong teams. Commenting on this remarkable event, Mao Ning of the Chinese Foreign Ministry recalled the “ping-pong diplomacy” that preceded the conclusion of the aforementioned “Shanghai Communiqué.”
As for the associated associations, in the author’s opinion, they can only provoke very superficial analogies. Since the whole situation has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. History in general and never repeats itself completely, despite the similarity of some moments of its different time periods. If to resort to some images, which would somehow correspond to the realities, then in this case the image of a spiral is more suitable. But not a ring.
The current China, we repeat, is the main geopolitical opponent of the United States, and not at all the (junior) quasi-allies of the final period of the Cold War. It is this factor that dominates Washington’s strategic course towards Beijing today. Although it cannot but be affected by the fact that the two leading world powers are in a state of rather dense economic interconnection. In addition, bringing the objectively inevitable competition between them to the point of resorting to the “last argument of kings” is fraught with a global catastrophe.
That is why Washington defines the current strategy in the Chinese direction by the term “managed competition”, which is designed to combine both elements of comprehensive (i.e. economic-political-military) confrontation and attempts to keep it within certain limits. The latter, however, can hardly be labelled in any definite way.
In the author’s opinion, despite Beijing’s criticism of this verbal turn of phrase, Beijing itself generally adheres to a roughly similar strategy vis-à-vis Washington. Although the public rhetoric of the former is dominated by statements designed to testify to a rather positive attitude towards the latter. This was the character of the mentioned comment of the Chinese Foreign Ministry representative on the occasion of the exchange of sports teams of universities of the two countries. However, in the real practice of the People’s Republic of China, the intention to positively develop relations with all external partners without exception prevails. This includes Washington.
Be that as it may, both of these elements are simultaneously present in bilateral relations. A document appears on the need for radical reform of the US defence industry with the main goal of confronting China. At the same time, in early January, the second contact between the defence ministries took place since the restoration. This was one of the practical results of the bilateral summit in San Francisco.
Attempts by the US leadership to restrict China’s access to the latest achievements in IT technologies have led to a 12% drop in bilateral trade turnover in 2023 and negatively affected the US economy itself. The need to abandon such counterproductive practices has been voiced by leading representatives of American business. And, seemingly in spite of the mentioned restrictions, Chinese IT companies appear at a specialised exhibition in Las Vegas. A bilateral working group is being formed in the field of climate problems, with the participation of such a well-known “expert” in this field as John Kerry, who “always was” on the American side.
In general, a lot of interesting things are happening in US-China relations. You only have time to record and somehow “digest” it.
Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.