By M D Nalapat
China is a far bigger challenge to US primacy than a depleted Russia.
If there is ever an improved version of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, it will be the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that prepares the script. Throughout much of the 1930s, Mao Zedong convinced several of his US interlocutors that he was not really a communist, but merely a peasant leader opposing a corrupt feudal hierarchy. During 1941-43, the Chairman persuaded Franklin Roosevelt to make available vast amounts of weaponry and other supplies by convincing official Washington that it was his men, and not those under KMT supremo Chiang Kai-shek, who were effective against the Japanese. Mao was helped in this by Stalin, who by that time had pitched his tent firmly with Mao after an earlier dalliance with the KMT. Soon after Mao succeeded in driving Chiang and his army from the Chinese mainland and successfully concluded the Korean war with Soviet help, the CCP chief began to challenge the leadership of Moscow over the international communist movement, and with increasing vehemence once Nikita Khruschev took over the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). By the close of the 1960s, relations between Moscow and Beijing were so frayed that Mao soon reached out to the US and fashioned an alliance that continued for the next three decades, on the way enabling China to emerge as the world’s second-largest economy and a formidable military power. Although Jiang Zemin was comfortable in the role of being the global second in command to the US, during his second term, Hu Jintao began to distance his country in a marked manner from US strategic interests. Now, Xi Jinping is proceeding on a path designed to ensure that Beijing becomes the primary power on the planet, even seeking to create a common Eurasian entity brought together by the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project.
From the founding of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) to the present, the leaders of the CCP have followed a policy of “China First”, which means not merely placing the interests of their vast country over those of any other, but continuously striving to ensure that China reclaims its space as the primary power on the planet, a rank that it possessed for at least two millennia before being challenged for the spot by other powers, such as the Roman Empire, the British Empire and most recently by Pax Americana. Since the start of the 1914-19 European war, there began a process of enervation of the European powers, a process accelerated by the 1939-45 conflict between the Axis and the Allies. It was no accident that the Bretton Woods conference decided that the three global organisations formed in the aftermath of the latter war would all be headquartered in the US, with the International Bank for Reconstruction & Development and the International Monetary Fund getting based in Washington and the United Nations Organisation in nearby New York. However, the 21st century has not been kind to the US, with its forces being denied victory even against derisory powers such as the irregulars doing battle with NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2008 financial meltdown entirely caused by financial entities within the Atlantic Alliance destroyed the trust in their financial institutions that had been the mainstay of investments by the rest of the world into them. The CCP saw an opportunity and moved in, seeking, for example, to ensure that the Renminbi (RMB) join the US dollar and the Euro as the primary global reserve currencies. In almost every location where the US was in retreat, there was a corresponding (if diplomatically silent) advance by China, so much so that Beijing has become the primary power in the calculus of almost as many states as the US still is. The process began under Bill Clinton and was taken note of by the successor (Bush II) administration, but 9/11 resulted in a veering away from a retrieval of primacy in the face of the Chinese challenge to a quagmire in the Wahhabi swamps of South Asia and the Middle East. It needs to be added that the CCP genuinely believes that Chinese primacy would ensure a “Win Win” outcome on the principle of “What’s good for China is good for the world” as also, “What’s good for the CCP is good for China”.
The European Union, aware that its hold over US strategic policy hinges on Washington continuing with the Cold War habit of seeing Moscow as the principal foe, has worked hard during the preceding decade to ensure a continuity in such a policy, despite the obvious. That China is a far bigger challenge to US primacy than a depleted Russia. Being outside the realms of government and in business, where success hinges on adherence to actually prevailing—and altering—conditions, Donald Trump has for some time been in the role of the child who calls out that the “emperor” ( denoting a largely unchanged Cold War approach to Moscow) has no “clothes”, i.e. justification. However, this has come up against the many “courtiers” whose continued prominence hinges on calling out that on the contrary, the emperor is clothed in the most majestic and elaborate of garments. It is these who are seeking to reduce Trump into a “lame duck” status within a month of his being sworn in, including by conflating events involving Putin’s Russia, in the process providing camouflage for China to operate without serious challenge. However, should President Trump succeed in fending off efforts at destroying his salience as the Chief Executive of his country, it will within a couple of years at most become obvious to the US voter that it is not Moscow that is the primary threat, but the effects of the “China First” policy of the leadership core of the Chinese Communist Party. Aware of this reality, the backers of the Cold War focus on Russia across both sides of the Atlantic will almost certainly intensify their efforts at neutering the 45th President of the US. After all, so long as Russia is the principal threat, it will be Germany and France on the European continent that are the key partners of the US. Once the beam falls on China, that role will shift to Japan and India, an outcome unwelcome to the major European powers.