On 26-27 January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the US President, met in the Thai capital Bangkok. This event should be considered an important stepping stone in the overall process of re-establishing lines of communication between the two leading world powers, which was launched during the summit of their leaders held in San Francisco last November.
NEO more or less regularly comments on any noteworthy developments in this undoubtedly positive process. The very existence of which testifies to the intention of the two main participants of the current stage of the “Big World Game” to circumvent the newly identified “Thucydides Trap”. Falling into it this time would be a man-made catastrophe of global proportions and would surely mean the end of the history of man as a “reasonable being”.
Moreover, the objective reasons pushing both countries towards the above-mentioned “trap” do not disappear. This means that the mutually competitive positioning of the USA and China at the global game table will remain. However, it has been decided to give it a “managed competition” format. Perhaps (but not necessarily), this will make it possible to avoid the temptation to resort to “ultima ratio” in one or another acute situation. Which in the current conditions would have, we repeat, fatal consequences for all mankind.
With a few digressions, let us note a favourable difference between the nature of the current mutual manoeuvres of the two leading world players and what is going on in Europe today. The latter, unwilling to accept the fact that it has become the backyard of world politics, has apparently decided, as they call it, to “catch up on old times” and engage in its favourite pastime, that is, to split once again into two irreconcilable camps. With their propaganda directed against each other, which acquires a mirror-paranoid character.
On the one hand, a caricature image of “Putin” is painted, designed to represent, if not universal evil, then a source of threat to the very existence of the mythical “West” with its (no less mythical) “democracy”. On the other hand, the same “West” (variant, “Anglo-Saxons”) is portrayed, but already as a carrier of “original Russophobia”, which for centuries does not want to do anything else, as only to look for ways to destroy “Holy Rus'”. It should be noted, by the way, that the two previous conflicts in Europe, which took on a global character, were designed along the same lines.
Territorially, the two camps are divided by several parasitic formations, first of all the present Ukraine. Both camps easily wave “nuclear weapons”, although at the current stage of the struggle for the “minds and hearts” of the population of Ukraine, for example, the main weapon should be the images of the developing Crimea and the recovering Mariupol. This is something that the Kiev backyard scum, who peddle their own people at an international political fair, are not capable of doing.
In general, the main tool of the struggle unfolding on the table of the “Great World Game” is the demonstration of the ability to create something positive, rather than the mastery of destruction with the help of “Sarmat-Poseidon-Hypersonic”. The future should be for those who know how to extinguish the fires of the numerous conflicts that have already started, rather than pouring additional oil into them while rubbing sweaty palms.
Only within the framework of particularly stupid propaganda that pits nations against each other can one be happy about a conflict that is unfolding on US territory. With the prospect of it turning into a tragedy for the generally sympathetic people inhabiting this country. Not to mention the hard-to-predict consequences of the potential collapse of the currently leading global power for the world order as a whole.
It is the demonstration of the ability to build, not to destroy what has already been built, that will probably be at the heart of the struggle between the US and China for influence on the “Global South”, which is moving into the focus of current global political processes. Although, for the good of the cause, it would be better not to turn the space of the same (notional) “Global South” into a field of struggle between projects. Even if positively aimed, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, on the one hand, and the so-called “Cornwall Consensus“, on the other.
But if it is impossible to eliminate the very “objective” reasons for the competitive positioning of the two major world powers in this space, then at least let them fight in a “controlled and managed” manner. Which, it seems, Washington and Beijing intend to do. This is evidenced by the process of restoring the exchange of signals in the communication lines between the two countries, which was launched in San Francisco.
Within its framework, the most significant event was the “meeting on neutral territory” mentioned at the beginning (in Bangkok) of the main persons responsible to the leaders of both countries for the foreign policy course of each of them. Its results are generally positively assessed in both countries in more or less similar verbal terms.
In a brief White House statement, emphasising the role of the “Woodside Summit” (a suburb of San Francisco) held two months earlier, it says in particular: “… Mr Sullivan stressed that although the US and China are in a state of competition, both countries need to prevent it from descending into conflict or confrontation”. During the talks, the same Mr Sullivan offered for discussion issues in connection with the situation in various regions of the world, including “in Ukraine, the Middle East, the South China Sea and Burma.” The latter, it should be noted, is now self-designated as “Myanmar”, the dramatic developments in which were recently commented on in the NEO.
Specifics of the results of both the summit and the meeting under discussion include the restoration of military contacts, continued dialogue on problems arising in the development and implementation of artificial intelligence technologies, and cooperation in countering drug trafficking. Already on 30 January, the first joint meeting of the working group was held to address this last issue, which until recently served as a pretext for Washington to accuse Beijing of supplying Mexican drug cartels with “precursors” in the production of fentanyl.
It is noteworthy that the White House document does not mention the Taiwan issue. Meanwhile, it is commented on by the media of both China and Taiwan itself. Naturally, from directly opposite positions. The first Global Times official generally assesses the talks that just took place (“within 12 hours”) as “frank, informative and fruitful”, designed to “stabilize bilateral relations through strategic dialogue”. However, “differences between the two countries on the Taiwan issue are likely to persist and potentially intensify”.
As for Taiwan, on behalf of its foreign policy department, it expressed “gratitude” to J. Sullivan for “once again expressing support for the state of peace in the Taiwan Strait. We would like to add that this position, formulated by Washington as early as 1979 by the relevant legislative act (Taiwan Relations Act), which formally does not deny the “One China Principle”, creates (so far insurmountable) obstacles to its implementation in practice.
However, the continuing and, to a considerable extent, intensifying state of competitive relations between the two leading world powers is by no means limited to the Taiwan issue. Once again, we note the intensifying struggle for influence in the same “Global South” as a whole and in some of its regions. Thus, Beijing’s position on the situation in each of the regions mentioned by J. Sullivan during his talks with Wang Yi differs from Washington’s positions with varying degrees of radicality.
This is especially true of what has recently been happening in the South China Sea, which, incidentally, is directly adjacent to Taiwan. One of the significant factors complicating the situation in the South China Sea is the actual return of the Philippines’ foreign policy course to the one this country had been following since the early 1950s, when the Treaty of Allied Relations with the United States was concluded, and until the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president in 2016.
However, in the second half of his presidential term, the trend towards this return became quite clear. This trend became quite obvious with the election of Marcos Jr. to the post. However, it seems relevant to discuss this drift of Philippine foreign policy separately and once again in connection with the visit of F. Marcos Jr. to Vietnam, which started in late January.
So, there are many sources for maintaining tension in US-China relations. But, let us repeat, the strategy of “managed competition” more or less agreed upon by the parties does not envisage their disappearance.
At least, candles will have to be placed in appropriate places to ensure that the definition of “managed” in this formula does not lose its significance.
Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”