It is indeed very significant that the Biden Administration is implementing most of the recommendations in the Atlantic Council’s Longer Telegram: Toward a new American China strategy, an important strategic document published in January 2021 focusing on China. It is noteworthy that the “Longer Telegram” is one of three reports produced by the Atlantic Council, the other two being Global Strategy 2021: an Allied Strategy for China, published in December 2020 with a preface by Joseph Nye, and The China plan: A transatlantic blueprint for strategic competition, published in March 2021.
We cannot speak of China and the Longer Telegram without speaking of Russia. Both are now considered official adversaries of the United States, and the more Russia is attacked, the more it gets closer to China, and vice versa. Henry Kissinger always argued that the relations between US and China must be stronger than the relations between Russia and China. Today we see that the US is committing a huge mistake by targeting both Russia and China and doing so simultaneously.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his famous book The Grand Chessboard, underlined the strategic importance of preventing the formation of antihegemonic alliances. Whereas an alliance between China and Russia should be feared, “the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an “anti hegemonic” coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances”. The important joint statement made by Russia’s Foreign Minister Serguey Lavrov and China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 22 March this year, just two days after the China-US Anchorage meeting, and the landmark China-Iran 25-year Strategic Cooperation Agreement signed five days later are indications that such an alliance might be in the making. The Biden Administration should indeed think twice before characterising the balance of forces yet to come.
Can we characterise relations with China (and Russia) as a new ‘Cold War’?
Today, Biden sees China as “the biggest threat to humanity in this century”. That is much more than a cold war, it is war, full stop!
For both the Long Telegram of 1946 and the Longer Telegram, the enemy is communism. The struggle is between two visions of the world order, the one based on unilateralism under US hegemony, the other on UN Charter-based multilateralism founded on the principle of sovereign equality between States. You have one of two options, “you are either with us or you are against us!”
An important aspect of the Longer Telegram and the two other Atlantic Council papers is that they are as ideological as George Keenan’s Long Telegram of 1946. Almost 75 years later, the approach has not changed, it is as though the United States is looking through the rearview mirror.
Ideologies, it is said, ended with the fall of the Berlin wall, but 30 years later they have returned as the central tenet of Washington’s geopolitical strategy. Addressing the Munich Security Conference in February this year, Biden accused China of undermining “the foundations of the international economic system”. The challenge today for the US is no longer mere regime change in China but engineering radical “system change”.
In my opinion there is a difference between Pompeo and the present US Administration on how China is to be handled. Pompeo’s was an evangelist crusade, but the Longer Telegram’s call is for intervention in the internal life of the Communist Party of China against what it ironically describes as “the revisionist orientation of the leadership” of Xi Jinping and his betrayal of the Thought of Deng Xiaoping.
The whole idea is to support the moderate tendency within the Communist Party against “the Maoist Xi Jinping”. In a very dogmatic manner the Atlantic Council, playing the role of prosecutor, concedes that the problem is Marxism Leninism, the communist party and iilliberalism in China.
It is no longer a question of containing or rolling back China’s influence. Today, for reasons that are both internal and external, Washington must respond to the threat posed by China whose economy is riding high even as the systemic crisis of capitalism clearly demonstrates that things are not moving in favour of the West. So, China and Russia have now become an internal problem. Even Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, has admitted that “many folks around the world actually are looking more at places like China than they are to the United States in terms of a successful model for governance and the economy.”
The reality is that the global balance of forces is moving and changing in favour of a multipolar world order and anti-hegemonic alliances and that the United States has nothing to propose to its own people. In fact it is a very conservative power that is at the head of a failure. De-dollarization is an example. Today, the main concern for the US is not becoming an hegemonic power, but maintaining it.
Biden’s has already begun implementing a strategy of assembling a global coalition to combat China, including militarily, through greater involvement in NATO and in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the QUAD, also known as the Southern NATO. Politically the idea is to isolate China from the rest of Asia and torpedo the “Belt and Road Initiative”. However, that will not be simple. The Initiative already involves 76 countries in different continents and represents US $ 1600 billion with no conditions attached, whereas the Marshall Plan represented US $ 176 billion in 2020 and was tied to important conditionalitities.
The first meeting of the European leaders with Biden was very much the boss is back in business. I have never before seen such subservience by European leaders behaving like the vassals that they are. We are now witnessing an intensification of the anti-China campaign in Europe in exchange for US protection against what is an artificially created Russian threat.
The result has been the recent blacklisting by China of a certain number of European personalities because of their systematic lies about the country. That decision is not an economic decision, but a political one, very different from the extraterritorial economic sanctions imposed by the West. Imagine what would happen had China demanded repayment of the huge US debt in treasury bonds, or if Russia had imposed sanctions on Europe by refusing to export its gas and oil? Thirty percent of Europe’s gas consumption comes form Russia.
Biden and the Longer Telegram speak a lot about human rights and international rules that must be respected by all. It is well known that human rights is used by the United States and its allies as a weapon to advance America’s hegemonic agenda, which explains Washington’s diabolisation of China with regard to Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the attacks against Russia with regard to Navalny, the US Presidential elections, or Ukraine and the Crimea.
When Washington speaks of respecting ‘rules’, it is not referring to the UN Charter or international law, but to the rules defined and imposed unilaterally by the United States upon the rest of the world. The Longer Telegram declares, “We can provide a model, we can show the way!”
The problem posed by Washington’s ideological approach to China is its contradiction between rivalry and confrontation on one hand and the need to cooperate, on the other. For instance, deindustrialisation in the US and shift of manufacturing to China will make any decoupling almost impossible. The US is highly dependant on the manufacturing industry. Recently General Qiao Liang, Deputy Secretary-General of the Council for National Security Policy Studies in China, pointed out with regard to combating the Covid-19 pandemic that the US has the patents, but not the capacity to produce ventilators. Of the 1,400 pieces needed to produce a ventilator, more than 1,100 are manufactured in China, which also handles the finishing process, You may have high technology, but without a manufacturing industry how will you produce your technology and how will you support your dollar and your army? Another example is artificial intelligence, a sector where China spends US $ 70 billion a year in investment and the US only US $ 11 billion. By 2035 China will become the leader of artificial intelligence
In conclusion, it is very well known that Americans are impatient, arrogant and too sure of themselves, whereas Chinese are not only patient, but have a vision that is coherent with their long civilisation and culture : they give time to time. It would be appropriate for me to end with a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “War is like fire, when it lasts, it endangers those who provoked it.”