EDITORIAL: It’s strange that US President Joe Biden chose to call his Chinese counterpart a “dictator” at a Democratic fundraiser immediately after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken went through all the trouble of travelling to China and meeting Foreign Minister Qin Gang and President Xi Jinping. Blinken announced in Beijing that the US and China had made ‘progress toward steering relations back on track’.
It is important to note that Blinken is the first US Secretary of State to visit Beijing in five years. Washington, then, was expected to keep working on the thaw, especially since it came after Chinese state media said in very clear terms that bilateral relations had sunk to “the lowest point” since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
But then came this completely unnecessary provocation from the US President himself. Perhaps the fact that he was speaking at a fundraiser which usually have small audiences and very limited media representation, and that the 80-year-old president is trying to portray himself as a tough guy as he gears up for re-election, explains his choice of words.
That is probably why he’s been playing down the impact of his comments, saying, “I don’t think it’s had any real consequence,” even though the Chinese government reprimanded the US ambassador in Beijing just hours after the incident.
There’s no denying that the US and China are the two biggest powers of the 21st century; or that they are on a collision course sometime mid-century (according to most experts). That is why Blinken’s push was so valuable.
The Americans are understandably worried that China is on course to become the world’s largest economy in a matter of a few decades, if not years. And in the process it is forming alliances, in addition to Russia, and influencing world leaders, which is prompting some of them, for the first time, to bare their teeth at Washington.
The US has already lost its diplomatic hold over the Middle East, for example, where even after the Trump era’s success of getting some Arab states to recognise Israel, Beijing was able to snatch the initiative form Washington by brokering peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran and encouraging the formation of a joint regional maritime force that will drive American hegemony right out of the Arabian Sea.
It is also partnering with a host of other nations, including Russia and India, to trade oil out of the dollar, even encouraging the BRICS platform to float its own currency to break the dollar’s stranglehold over international trade.
All this follows the numerous waves of US-China economic and tariff wars that were also initiated by the Trump White House, of course, while military cooperation is still frozen, which only shows why it was so important to protect and build on what Blinken had achieved in China.
Instead, President Biden chose to play the strongman before donors to lubricate his re-election campaign. Such chest-thumping before a domestic audience is understandable, and doesn’t really violate the playbook, but you’d still expect a little more finesse from the leader of the free world and supreme commander of the most potent military machine on the planet when he’s talking about his country’s biggest, fast-growing rival.
Now there’s a good chance he’s undone some of the good work that took weeks and months of preparation.
It is precisely because of superpower hubris that the world is splitting into blocs again, a grim reminder of the Cold War that plagued much of the last century and caused so much unnecessary suffering and bloodshed.
Countries like Pakistan are especially worried given their close links to both Washington and Beijing. That is why the world’s biggest powers would do well to listen to their concerns, among others, and work to tone down rhetoric of confrontation instead of stoking it.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023