By: Ricardo Israel - 19/11/2023
Since I settled in the United States in 2019, I have witnessed a process of polarization and constant deterioration in the quality of its democracy, which I have called the Latin Americanization of its politics and its politicians, discussed in detail in other columns.
President Xi Jinping's visit offers me a new opportunity to address the issue and the difficulties that the United States is having in addressing the nature of the Chinese challenge. Indeed, the APEC summit or Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum arrived in San Francisco, and what is striking is something that has been seen in perhaps every Latin American country that hosts an international meeting, but that had rarely been witnessed in the USA. who was not used to hiding or adorning a reality, simply for a few visits.
A city as beautiful as this Californian headquarters, for years had experienced a process of discoloration of its civic center, emigration of residents and increase in crime, since there were many tents of those who had no fixed address and many drug addicts. Nothing had been achieved with protests and no action or request seemed to move authorities who did not react to their taxpayers and/or voters, in a mixture of indolence and ideological conviction that they were doing the right thing.
But Xi Jinping's visit was enough to produce the miracle, and in a few days sidewalks and facades were cleaned and the police removed drug addicts and homeless people, that is, an American version of a Potemkin Village was made, a spectacle for the passage of the Chinese autocrat from one place to another.
There is no other reason than this international meeting as recognized by Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco and current governor, to whom Xi recently granted an audience, which is explained only because he is a shadow presidential candidate, since by protocol The Chinese leader rarely receives anyone who is not the head of state or government. He did it because it is surely thought that ultimately health problems (and the polls) could cause Biden to drop out of the presidential race. Not today, but maybe later.
In other words, what we saw and still see in the region has now reached US politics and politicians, and it is the worst and not the best of Latin America. And whatever the motivation of the authorities in San Francisco and California, it is just the kind of behavior that the Chinese do not respect.
The meeting between Biden and Xi only took place due to the insistence of the United States and frequent trips by different dignitaries such as the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury and several other high-level officials, since the Chinese simply did not want it, all time that they had already decided last year to suppress meetings between military leaders and had rejected a summit at least once, to express their displeasure at the economic sanctions on Chinese officials, since they rejected these decisions as well as the “containment” policy. of China as a reincarnation of the one that was so successful with the former USSR. Also as a way of emphasizing that China was an equal that should be treated with respect.
In other words, this meeting was the result of an American effort that required time and probably receiving harsh words back, similar to a few that Xi read on Wednesday the 15th at the meeting's opening.
It also coincides with a special period, where China has grown enormously in military power and very modern Armed Forces, in what seems to be the culmination of the fourth and last modernization left as a legacy by Deng Xioping, after China became the factory of the world due to its industrial power, and the economic rival of the USA, which makes it a planetary rival very different from what the former USSR was.
A China that has also become a diplomatic alternative, that has revitalized the BRICs as an anti-American group, that has the most ambitious infrastructure project in the world on the Silk Road, that even transforms some countries into dependents of Beijing. through the debts incurred, fulfilling in a certain way the role that the international financial system plays for the USA.
By the way, China today has problems, especially for the first time in decades in the economic sphere, which are complicating its outlook and affecting the impressive growth rates of previous years. However, focusing the analysis only on this point is not understanding what is happening with Xi's leadership, where the changes of the last party congresses have transformed the collective dictatorship into a personalist one.
A China where another historical change has also occurred, similar to when in the 70s, the Nixon-Kissinger duo opened the world to them to avoid a rapprochement with the USSR, after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Until recently, legitimation came from economic growth, state capitalism, the improvement of living and consumer conditions, and hundreds of millions of people leaving poverty, a success such that perhaps the world had not witnessed since the Industrial Revolution.
However, in my opinion that legitimation is no longer so important, since today it is pure nationalism, and comes from the geopolitical challenge of becoming the main planetary power this 21st century, a challenge for which I believe they have a date, which is not other than October 1, 2049, the centenary of the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong, an objective for which they have welcomed Putin's Russia with open arms.
It is an alliance that is not exactly “natural” and a historical novelty, since in the past there were rather disagreements (and even an exchange of shots favorable to Moscow in the 60s), an alliance to which Iran and North Korea and that makes Beijing happy, since it considers it a kind of gift, the result of both the sanctions and Russia's attempted "cancellation", after the invasion of Ukraine. China values that Russia is a minor partner (the equivalent of Europe for the USA), very minor today, but that it is an atomic power (and willing to use them, even if it is as tactical weapons), and that it joins China to propose a new scheme of international rules, replacing the current system, creation of the USA.
In any case, the lack of understanding of what could be the most relevant international event since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, perhaps was not understood immediately, as demonstrated by the USA's error in believing that China could remain neutral or that it would I could ask him to “pressure” his new friend. in relation to Ukraine. And it is to be hoped that this error of judgment has disappeared in Washington, in favor of a more realistic one.
The point is that Washington's policy in relation to China has been zigzagging, including harsh statements that are not supported by decisions of the same nature. I also hope that it will finally be able to have a policy towards China that reflects the reality that Beijing is not a partner but an adversary, and the only relevant one it has today and, certainly, in the foreseeable future.
The USA needs to have the clarity that it had in the Cold War, and that allowed it to win it. It is to be hoped that, without goodistic illusions, the USA understands well the world in which it operates as a dominant power.
In order not to continue in its Latin Americanization, US policy requires recovering its internal unity, today replaced by the confrontation of elites in a cultural war, the impossibility of having State policies that survive temporary governments, and the difficulty of reaching some kind according to its Congress, a difficulty more typical of underdevelopment than of the main power.
Internationally, accept that they were wrong in their attitude towards Russia, especially after the occupation of Crimea in 2014 (Obama was wrong there just as the USA could withdraw from the Middle East), since Putin never really hid his plan. Also that the Iranian ayatollahs have been in a revolutionary jihad since 1979, and that they remain convinced that Israel is the little Satan and that the USA is the great one, so it has never made sense to want to satisfy those who hate them so much with money or agreements. And even less so, that the power accepts Iran's strengthening and interventionism, as well as its support for terrorism.
The point is that today China has much more clarity in its relations with the USA than the USA has with them. China has them around its geopolitical objective, which is none other than replacing the USA as the main power in the world, a project for which it increasingly has the resources, as well as a cohesive elite. The truth is that the USA continues to have doubts when it should not have any, since all it needs to do is observe how Beijing follows step by step what the USA did to replace Great Britain, and talking about step by step is not an exaggeration. , because it is doing so, from the impressive industrial base it has created, the infrastructure projects to attract other countries, mining and agricultural investment, exports and imports, and now Chinese history has been added and a mix of Confucius with Marx.
For his part, as a good autocrat, Comrade Xi's “thought” has been added to that of Mao, in the constitution no less.
The USA today lacks a good mobilizing project, nor does it have something that was so useful in the Cold War to avoid escalations that were difficult to control, such as the concept of "red lines", that is, that which is totally unacceptable to the other, that for which one is willing to use weapons. For example, for China it would be the presence of American troops in Taiwan. But if the red lines were clear in the Cold War (e.g., invading a country in Europe), does anyone know for sure what the red lines are for the USA today? The really dangerous thing is that the Chinese don't know it either, perhaps because no one has told them.
And these deficiencies were very visible on that trip by Mrs. Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, when she was the third authority in the country, in August 2022. And although the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department advised her not to do so, she did not He listened, traveled and exposed Washington's lack of preparation to confront China, which militarily surrounded Taiwan, a serious fact, since the USA was and continues to be the main power in the world.
The serious thing is that none of these three institutions seems to be in better conditions today to confront China, and with the same doubts and lack of clarity, so how can the USA lead others, if it lacks the intimate conviction of its capabilities? And the will to lead the rest of the countries?
Apparently, today the USA does not have the drive that it had left over in the Cold War, and it needs it to remain number one. The USA must improve many aspects to confront China. In addition to those already mentioned in this column, the functioning of sanctions also needs to improve, since, if they did not give the expected result with Russia, failure with an economic power like China is assured. In this regard, on the same day of the meeting with President Biden, the lifting of some sanctions that irritated Beijing was announced, and the quid pro quo was not such, since the equivalent were simple promises.
The USA requires a new international architecture, since starting from the UN, the current institutions usually vote against it, even though it is its creation and it still finances them. Also, as a necessity in the face of the alternative bloc that China-Russia are building.
State policies are required that guide and last over time, which today do not exist in many areas (for example, immigration), above all, that the rest of the world can understand that they exist, since today they must guess when there is a change of government in USES.
Learn from successes and failures of what they did in Ukraine and from the bad results of two decades in Afghanistan and the humiliating way of withdrawal. Above all, a great country project for this 21st century and the will to lead the world, without which, it will be difficult for others to follow its leadership.
Nothing replaces something as relevant as the fact that China is neither an ally nor a competitor, it is clearly a rival. And if the USA wants to continue being number one, it must be respected, that respect that seems to have been lost, when the pro-Iranian militias with the obvious approval of Tehran attack its troops on twenty-some occasions in a couple of days, hardly anyone knew about it. aircraft carrier voyage.
Even more important is a narrative, where others feel excited about what the United States represents, in its example and in the acceptance of its leadership, which seems very absent in their own continent of America, when right under their noses and without reaction, China It has become the main trading partner of a majority of countries, and only the exchange with Mexico and Canada unconvincingly disguises this reality. And with situations such as the Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles 2022, when several heads of government and state decided not to attend, a discourtesy that would hardly be done to Xi, if he were the host.
And although I have mentioned them before, two books are essential: “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Professor Paul Kennedy, where he studies the politics and economics of the greatest powers between 1500 and 1980 and why their decline occurs, and “ Thucydides' Trap” by Graham Allison, to understand how wars occur or how they are avoided when an emerging power tries to displace the still dominant one. Both are classics that help understand what is happening between China and the United States today.
It is essential that the West in general and the United States in particular understand and accept the fact that China pays less and less attention to what outside opinion of it is, part of the process of self-affirmation and self-confidence that has taken place there. Not only because of industrialization, technological and scientific growth, the global trade network that they have built, the development of a navy for all seas and the protection of their trade routes, just as Great Britain and the USA did in previous centuries.
In the case of China, not only because of that, but because for most of its very ancient history, China has been more powerful than the West, a process of which they are very aware. They assure that what is happening today only reestablishes a balance that had been lost.
To realize that China pays less and less attention to what is said about it, just read the publications they generate, and since they do so in English it is meant to be read outside of China. This way they will realize that a behavior that China does not respect is weakness. Be careful here in the USA, since this attitude is not new, but comes from the imperial era. In other words, the idea behind the San Francisco dialogue that this relationship should be limited to “managing differences” is a ship that has already sailed, not to return to the same port.
For example, something very important for the future of Taiwan has nothing to do with what is thought about it in the West, and it has nothing to do with the presidential elections that will take place on January 13, 2024. China has its candidate in the person of their civil war adversaries, the nationalists, who maintain that there is only one China, that is, what Beijing is most interested in.
If Xi and the Communist Party win, it would be a Chinese problem solved for now by the Chinese. It is, therefore, perhaps the most important electoral contest in the world next year, ignored by the Western media, unlike the Chinese, which are also known for their patience, as is known.
It is the difference between China as seen by the Chinese and not by Washington. In other words, beating him also requires a little humility.
-PhD in Political Science, Lawyer, Presidential Candidate in Chile (2013)
«The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author».