The United States cannot retard the progress that China is making towards taking its position as the undisputed number one economy in the world. The US also cannot directly interfere in China’s diplomatic progress as expressed both in its peace-making initiatives such as the recent one between Myanmar and Bangladesh regarding the crisis in Rakhine state, as well as in its wider moves to foster enhanced economic and security cooperation along One Belt–One Road. The US can however exploit peripheral tensions in and around China and along the more sensitive areas near the routes of One Belt–One Road, in order to attempt and create chaos in regions where China requires stability. Here are the areas that matter most.
1. The South China Sea
China and some of its South East Asian neighbours have competing interests and disputes arising from the question of sovereign rights in the South China Sea. There are two distinct narratives that have emerged, pertaining to how a nation or indeed a set of nations deal with this problem.
The first model is one of cooperation and dialogue which has been pioneered by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike his predecessors, Duterte has openly renounced hostility against China and has spoken of cooperative “co-ownership” when it comes to jointly exploiting the resources of the Sea.
Beijing has responded positively to Duterte’s proposals, while China’s growing positive relationship with The Philippines was demonstrated by China’s recent defence of Duterte against a public campaign of slander from the Jordanian UN Human Rights Commissioner.
A second narrative is the one being actively pursued by the United States. According to this strategy, the US seeks to align itself with the South East Asian nations most hostile to China while attempting to gain the support of such nations for the international violation of Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea by US vessels in a move that the US deceptively calls “freedom of navigation”.
This strategy intends to accentuate historic tensions between countries like Vietnam and China, with the ultimate aim of luring ASEAN nations into a wider US-China hybrid war in which the US will do all of the provoking, but where ASEAN nations would end up paying the biggest price. Ultimately, it is only by remaining fiercely independent that the ASEAN bloc can resist being pulled into the US orchestrated power struggle between Beijing and Washington that would ultimately see China winning the competition, but losing the trust of key ASEAN partners, assuming they do not adopt their own version of the model Duterte has pursued. This is especially true of Vietnam whose military relations with the US continue to expand, while its trading relations have expended in favour of China. Ultimately, Hanoi ought to take the pragmatic decision to put economic survival over pro-US provocations based on an outdated understanding of China’s regional ambitions.
ASEAN should realise as a whole that it is not China pursuing its South China Sea claims in a hostile way, but that the US is the superpower fostering hostility by exploiting latent Sinophobia in certain Asia states, most notably, in Vietnam.
2. The Horn of Africa and Sudan
The strategically located Horn of Africa forms an important route along the maritime belts of One Belt–One Road which link the wider Indian Ocean region to the Mediterranean via the Bab-el-Mandeb and Suez Canal. Fierce competition for geopolitical influence is already under way throughout the Horn of Africa. This is particularly true of the small nation of Djibouti where China opened up a naval logistics base, it’s first ever outside of China, in 2017. Djibouti is also home to US bases as well as those of Japan, France and Italy.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko recently described possible scenarios for a wider geopolitical power struggle in the region. His suggestion for the most desirable way to prevent a wider geopolitical conflict in The Horn of Africa reads as follows,
“The American-Emirati destabilization of Djibouti might intentionally or unwittingly produce consequences that endanger China’s interests in the Horn of Africa, but there’s also the chance that the blowback that they produce conversely strengthens Beijing’s role in this region instead:
The People’s Republic And Peacekeeping:
So long as China can avoid the “mission creep” scenario that the US is pushing it towards, it might be able to manage any Eritrean-Djiboutian border tensions (and possibly others) through a peacekeeping mission like the one that it proposed last summer, therefore stabilizing the region.
Diplomacy And Deal-Making:
China is the best suited out of any country to mediate between all conflicting parties within the region, especially if it commits peacekeepers to the cause, and this might see its diplomacy producing the Silk Road fruit of more “win-win” deals that sustain the peace that its soldiers first attained.
Peace Isn’t Possible Without The People’s Republic:
The aggregate consequences of China’s military and diplomatic efforts at obtaining, securing, and advancing peace in the Horn of Africa could enable Beijing to become a stabilizing force in one of the world’s most unstable regions and consequently assist its integration into the Multipolar World Order”.
Just above the Horn of Africa, in Sudan, President Omar Bashir has stated that he seeks to create ever more meaningful relations with both China and Russia, after Khartoum’s post-Cold War flirtation with the US has amounted to an anti-Sudanese policy which has seen Washington support the breakaway republic of South Sudan and other separatist movements. Sudan is now home to a power-play between the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other. Ultimately, Russia and China hold the key to this balance of power. While Russia continues to revive its relations with Egypt, its relations with Turkey are expanding at an ever growing rate. Likewise, by aligning itself with the US in respect of Sudan, Egypt will find that China will automatically adopt a position that favours the multi-polar approach of both Ankara and Khartoum. Sudan’s pivot east will help to stabilise the wider Lower Nile region, while Russia’s healthy relationship with Egypt could eventually foster a pragmatic detente between Cairo and Khartoum in the medium term.
3. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the most developed portion of the international One Belt–One Road scheme and will continue to play a pivotal role for all of China’s partners, for at last the next two centuries. By linking mainland China with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea, China and Pakistan have created an effective Pacific to Indian Ocean trading route which bypasses the Strait of Malacca.
The US is attempting to destabilise Pakistan as a result of its desire to reduce the economic advantages that China and its partners will gain from a stable CPEC. In order to accomplish this, the US has pivoted its South Asia policy in favour of India, a strategy India’s current far-right Hindutva government is all too willing to oblige. So long as India can be used by the US to provoke China along historically disputed borders which date back to the British imperial era, the US will gladly look the other way if not encourage India’s funding and aiding of anti-Pakistani terrorism, including in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, which is the home of Gwadar. At the same time, the intentionally endless US war in Afghanistan serves the purpose of cutting Pakistan off from strategically important roads which could link Pakistan to northern Iran and the south Caucasus.
Pakistani officials have already realised this which is clearly one of the motivations for an accelerated rapprochement with Iran, one which fits in well with Islamabad’s desire to link CPEC with the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) via the Iranian port of Chabahar. While India has presented NSTC as a rival to CPEC and to One Belt–One Road more widely, it is becoming increasingly apparent that neither Iran nor Pakistan have any intention to maintain NSTC as a separate and ultimately less profitable commercial highway.
In linking CPEC to the NSTC, one would see Gwadar and Chabahar acting as two inter-connected routes linking the Indian Ocean to China and Central Asia (and ultimately Russia) via CPEC, while Chabahar would link the Gulf of Oman to Russia and Turkey via two roads leading out of the south Caucasus as part of NSTC.
This strategy looks to circumvent US provocations in Afghanistan, while limiting India’s ability to use Chabahar and the wider NSTC as a means to rival Pakistan, let alone to sow discord between Islamabad and Tehran at a time when both countries are nearing an ever important full scale rapprochement.
Ultimately, India can either turn its back on the NSTC, or resign itself to the fact that Iran and Russia are both happy to see NSTC integrated into CPEC via the ‘two headed’ port strategy which will see Gwadar and Chabahar act as two terminals on a singular east/west–north/south transport route.
4. Korea and The Trade War
One of the primary reasons that US provocations against Pyongyang have accelerated in the last year, is due to the fact that the Korean issue provides a useful weaponised distraction to China, right at its back door. So long as the US can exploit tensions on a divided Korean peninsula, the US will be able to maintain a thin veil of justification for its most advanced weapons sitting close to China’s borders. Likewise, a divided Korea means that creating a transport link between the Korean peninsula and both Russia and China, will be more difficult if not impossible. It is no coincidence that President Putin’s plan to create a tripartite economic cooperation zone between the two Koreas and Russia has been met with deafening silence in Washington. The US realises that if trade between the Koreas and their northern neighbours were to break-out, hostility between Seoul and Pyongyang would also dwindle down to nothing in relatively short order.
Donald Trump seems to be facing hostility from his own deep state over his scheduled talks with Kim Jong-un, due to the fact that Trump appears to be motivated more by ego and poll ratings in respect of Korean peace, than by long term strategic thinking from the devious perspective of the US military-industrial complex. Many in the US deep state want to perpetuate the Korean conflict so as to prevent China from fully integrating Korea into One Belt–One Road, while Trump seems keener on a personal ‘victory’ where he can share a “mission accomplished” moment along with a Kim Jong-un photo op.
That being said, South Korea and the US are currently experiencing their own economic hostility as Donald Trump looks to kill off the Obama era South Korea – US free trade agreement, something which is already pushing Seoul closer to China.
In this sense, one is witnessing a rogue Donald Trump who may be partly defying his own deep state in order to trade a traditional US position of obstruction to Korean unity, for a direct trade war with China. Thus, if Trump follows through on his threat to reduce military support to Seoul, at a time when the two Korean states are in the midst of an historic detente, one could foresee a scenario where if Trump gets his way, the US will slowly disengage from an expensive Korean strategy, towards one which seeks to target China’s imports to the US, while simultaneously allowing Seoul to slip closer to China in terms of long-term trading relations.
Clearly, many Pentagon traditionalists as well as economic pragmatists will oppose Trump if he seeks to pursue this route to its logical extent. It remains to be seen which faction in Washington will win this particular battle.
5. The Middle East and the Petroyuan
Current maps of One Belt–One Road seek a path to the Mediterranean via Iran and the Arab world into Turkey. So long as the US remains an occupier of parts of Iraq and Syria, this will be made all the more difficult. Here, China’s best ‘weapon’ is a combination of waiting it out in respect of Syria and Iraq, hoping that both countries are allowed to complete their victory against terrorism and accompanying pivot back to the geopolitical east, while more importantly, tempting the oil producers of the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, with the prospect of the Petroyuan.
As soon as the major oil producers of the Arab world find it economically compelling to sell oil futures contracts in the Yuan rather than the Dollar, the American stranglehold on the region will greatly subside. For China it is a matter of watching Syria and Iraq, while waiting for Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners to be pushed by wider geo-monetary realities, away from the Dollar and closer to the Yuan.
6. Eastern Europe/Ukraine
While most observers connect the US sponsorship of the 2014 coup against the legitimate Ukrainian government as a means of creating a hostile regime in the wider Russian geopolitical space, it was also a move aimed at preventing China from establishing a crucial part of One Belt–One Road along the Black Sea. It should not be forgotten that months before the 2014 February Kiev coup, Ukraine’s last legitimate President Viktor Yanukovych travelled to Beijing to solidify the following deals. As I previously wrote:
“During the meeting in Beijing, it was reported that Yanukovych and Chinese officials were in talks to construct a deep water port in Crimea, which at the time was under the sovereignty of Yanukovych’s government. The port project said to be worth $10 million, was reported shortly after the Ukrainian coup of February 2014 by the notoriously liberal Moscow Times as well as in a deeply Sinophobic article in the Eurasian Daily Monitor.
The way these publications – which clearly adopt a European narrative of events – reported Yanukovych’s dealing with China, clearly indicate that pro-EU propagandists were highly troubled by the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych and China were about to solidify what might have been long lasting and meaningful economic relations, relations which could have helped ease Ukraine’s monumental debt crisis. If the debt crisis was resolved through Chinese investment, western creditors and the IMF would not have been able to wield power over Kiev.
The fact that Yanukovych travelled to Russia shortly after his trip to China is a further confirmation of the fact that doing business with both Russia and China is mutually complimentary. Russia’s subsequent enthusiasm for China’s New Silk Road is a further indication of the open possibilities of countries and businessmen conducting commerce with both Beijing and Moscow simultaneously”.
The coup put China’s Crimea plans on hold, but since Crimea’s restoration to Russia, there remains a strong possibility that in the near future, China could at long last, develop a long sought after presence in the northern Black Sea.
Donald Trump just signed the Taiwan Travel Act which partly rolls back the status quo of Washington’s recognition of Beijing that has been in place since former President Jimmy Carter decided to recognise the People’s Republic of China instead of Taiwan. Today, Trump is attempting to develop a “two China policy” through the back door but normalising relations with Taipei in a move which has already infuriated Beijing.
Just as Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem/Al-Quds as the “Israeli” capital showed a complete disregard for the stability of the Arab world and the feelings of the wider Muslim world, so too is his Taiwan policy an overt provocation of China. Of all the ill advised moves against China, Washington’s Taiwan policy is the most counter-productive as China will not stand for any meddling on its sovereign territory. The more Washington pushes in respect of Taiwan, the more China will gradually prepare itself for an asymmetrical push back, one that could ultimately backfire so badly for the US, that it could lead to the reintegration of Taiwan with the rest of China, possibly under the ‘One Country – Two Systems’ scheme that has proved successful for both Hong Kong and Macau.
While the US has gone to great lengths to provoke China in attempts to retard its wider economic and geopolitical progress, ultimately there are solutions to all of these issues, many of which would see the US facing down further humiliation.
The US is trying to construct a narrative which convinces China to pull back from its economic expansion and peaceful multilateral economic interconnectivity. This may well back-fire as a whole, as surely at least some individuals in the US must be able to see that ultimately, provoking China will be far more costly to the US treasury than finding a way to economically co-exist and indeed benefit from the Chinese model of economic interconnectivity.