However, we have not studied another possibility: Can US new president Trump leverage Russia against China?
In fact, before Obama began his pivot to Asia to contain China, the US has been quite successful in containing Russia with Chinese assistance. China supported the UN decisions initiated by the West to contain Russia in the Middle East. It even suffered great losses in supporting the US in conducting regime change unfavorable to Russia in Libya.
However, when China continued to rise in spite of all the doomsday predictions of Western China analysts, the United States began to fear that its world leadership might be replaced by China. That might become a reality if China’s growth rate, though had slowed down, remain much higher than the US. As mentioned above former US Obama administration began its pivot to Asia to contain China. Militarily, it planed to increase its military deployment from 50% to 60% in Asia. Economically, Obama had made great efforts to set up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What upset China most was US commencement to interfere with China’s disputes with its neighbors over the South China Sea. China regards its rights and interests in the South China Sea as its core interests so that it responded strongly.
As described above, China was not strong enough to resist US containment alone. It has to unite with Russia to resist the US. China greatly pleased Russia by joining Russia’s veto of UN resolution initiated by the US aimed at bringing about regime change in pro-Russia Syria.
China’s great efforts to ally with Russia were but its diplomacy to subdue the US. As the West led by the US had been containing Russia with great political and military pressure, Russia welcomed China’s efforts to ally with it. Due to the historical enmity and conflicts of interests between China and Russia described above, their alliance could be regarded as a marriage of convenience.
People’s marriage is mostly broken due to the affair with a third party. An affair between the US and Russia would have been a wise strategy to subdue China with diplomacy.
US Strategy Illiteracy
I have mentioned times and again US strategy illiteracy. Henry Kissinger has the wisdom that the US has to have better relations with China and the Soviet Union (Russia now) than the relations between China and the Soviet Union. He succeeded in establishing relations with China to scare the Soviet Union and make the latter seek détente with the US.
On the contrary, as described above former US president Obama pushed China and Russia into each others’ arms by his efforts to contain both countries. As a result, when President Donald Trump succeeded Obama, through Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s joint efforts, Russia and China have overcome their historical enmity and conflicts of interests and become quite close allies.
However, not all American people are strategy illiterates. Trump seems to know the need to break Russia-China alliance by improving US relations with Russia. Perhaps, he knows the importance of leveraging Russia against rising China. In his election campaign, Trump often praised Russian President Putin while attacking China. It gave people the impression that Trump would improve US relations with Russia when he had won the election and become US president. But due to the Cold War there has been inveterate hostility between the US and Russia; therefore, that idea is quite unpopular among lots of American people. For example Trump’s former defense secretary James Mattis regards Russia as the biggest threat.
Trump is certainly not so stupid as to regard Russia as a friend instead of an enemy. He only wanted to drive a wedge between Russia and China to isolate China. That will be the reverse of Henry Kissinger’s move in improving US relations with China to counter the Soviet Union. Now Trump wants to improve US relations with Russia to counter China.
It is perhaps a wise move to contain China, but is it possible for Trump to do so, given US domestic disgust of Putin? Can Trump overcome fierce opposition from US politicians and media, especially the opposition from his own Republican Party?
Given the traditional enmity between the two giant neighbors Russia and China, it would have been possible for the US to leverage Russia against China if Obama had not committed the mistake of containing them both simultaneously and thus turned them into allies instead of enemies. When Trump tried to improve US-Russian relations, Russia-China alliance seems to have been well-established.
However, there are the historical enmity and conflicts of interests between Russia and Russia Trump may exploit. In addition China’s Belt and Road initiative has given rise to new conflicts of interests between the two for Trump to exploit.
That will be described in my next post.
Article by Chan Kai Yee.
Buildup of Mutual Trust between China and Russia
As there has been a long history of enmity between the two giant neighbors, it takes time to build mutual trust for the two to become allies in confronting the US. Russia welcomed China’s veto but still lacked trust in China. It wanted China’s large market for its oil, gas and other natural resources and needed Chinese consumer goods and investment, but refused to provide China with preferential treatment in selling natural resources to China. As a result, there were lots of difficulties for the two in concluding their huge natural gas deal.
Due to lack of trust in China, Russia refrained from joining China in criticizing Japan for Japan’s war crimes in World War II or clearly supporting China’s stances in East and South China Seas.
Fortunately for China, carried away by their success in removing Russian influence in the Middle East, the West began to take over Ukraine that Russia regarded as a vital area for its survival. Russia and the West had contended for the area for a long time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both had made great efforts to influence the presidential election in Ukraine. Ukraine people were thus split into the pro-EU and pro-Russia camps. There was roughly balance of strength between the two camps so that there was sometimes a pro-Russian and sometimes a pro-EU Ukrainian president. Before the recent civil war in Ukraine, Russia had succeeded in having a pro-Russia president elected in Ukraine. China supported the pro-Russia president with lots of aids when he visited China while Ukraine agreed to sell advanced weapons and weapon technology to China.
To further contain Russia, the EU wanted Ukraine to join EU, which may lead to Ukraine joining NATO in confronting Russia. The pro-Russia president opposed that. With EU support, the pro-EU camp launched a street revolution and overthrew the pro-Russia president. To have a NATO member as its neighbor is utterly unacceptable to Russia. It sent troops to annex Crimea and set up pro-Russia militia to fight for independence in Ukraine’s two major industrial states.
The US took the lead to interfere by imposing sanctions on Russia while China helped Russia counter the sanctions. The West led by the US has thus pushed Russia entirely into China’s arms.
South China Sea
In Asia, the US has intensified its pivot to Asia to contain China. It exploited China’s disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea to pit China’s neighbors against China. It helped the Philippines obtain an arbitration ruling that entirely denies China’s historical rights and interests in the South China Sea and sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to force China to comply with the ruling. China simply rejects the ruling while Russia firmly supports China’s stance. The US has thus pushed China further into Russia’s arms. Now, there has been de facto alliance between China and Russia.
Obama’s diplomatic blunders have caused the US to have two powerful enemies. Perhaps, Obama looked down on Russia and believed that he can deal with China easily even if China had Russia as its ally to help it. However, some US military experts do not think so. They believe that Russia-China alliance is US military’s nightmare. Their worries will be described in the next post.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Commencement of the Impossible Becoming Possible
However, faced with the military threat from Obama’s pivot to Asia, China has no choice other than seeking alliance with Russia as Russia is the only country strong and willing enough to help China counter the US. China has made great efforts to make Russia trust it.
In fact, while selling China advanced weapons to help China modernize its military, Russia worried that when the threat in East and South China Seas had been removed, China might transfer its troops to its north to deal with Russia and possibly for recovery of the 2 million square kilometers of land ceded to Russia by China’s Qing Dynasty or re-annexation of Mongolia.
In September 2014, Russia conducted a large military exercise dubbed “Vostok 2014” in its Far East near Chinese border. Analysts said that it had been the largest Russian drill since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They believed the drill was meant to deter China.
For a long time before improvement of Russia-China ties, Russia has wanted to end or modify the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia in order to be able to have intermediate nuclear weapons as a strong deterrent on its border with China.
In its diplomacy, though refraind from explicitly antagonizing China, Russia had tried its best to mend ties with Japan. During Russian President Putin’s visits to Vietnam and India respectively in late 2013 and 2014, Putin made efforts to strengthen Russia’s longtime alliance with the two countries in order to have allies to counter China if China’s rise becomes a threat to Russia.
The historical enmity and serious conflict of interests make it impossible for the two countries to be allies. The breakup of their alliance in the 1950’s precisely proved that.
In addition, according to US gifted political scientist Samuel Huntington’s views on clash of civilizations, Russia and China have quite different civilizations so that clash of civilizations seems unavoidable especially as they share a long border.
However, history has proved that there is no eternal friendship or enmity. Friendship has to be built while enmity can be removed as well as created. It all depends on state leaders’ vision, wisdom and tact.
France and Germany had bitter enmity for decades, which gave rise to countless wars and even world wars. However, their leaders and peoples have learnt their lessons from their cruel wars and have the wisdom to make hard efforts to set up the European Union to become close allies within the union.
As for Russia and China, at first the US only tried to contain Russia in order to prevent Russia’s revival of the Soviet Union. Led by the US, the West had been removing pro-Russia regimes one by one. China supported the West by voting in favor of the UN Security Council’s resolutions put forth by the West. After all, if Russia regains Soviet Union’s status of superpower, it may become a great threat to China. China certainly shall help the US contain Russia. That was why China voted for the UN resolution for regime change in Libya though China suffered great losses due to that.
After the removal of Libya Strongman Gaddafi, Syria was the only country within Russia’s sphere of influence in the Middle East. The US and the West wanted to conduct regime change to entirely remove Russia’s influence in the Middle East. Luckily for Russia, China had switched to Russia’s side as it realized that Obama was more anxious to contain China, for which he had begun his pivot to Asia. Obama had been setting up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and planned to transfer 60% of US military to do so. As a result, without any efforts of persuasion, US loyal follower China who suffered great losses in supporting US decision to bring regime change in Libya at the expense of Russia, suddenly switched to Russia’s side to join Russia in vetoing US-initiated UN Security Council Decision aimed at bringing about regime change in pro-Russia Syria.
It is also lucky for China that the US had already been containing Russia as Russia still had the dream of recovering the glory of the Soviet Union. What the US and other Western nations have been doing in the Middle East precisely aimed at reducing Russian influence there. China had helped the US in the UN to enable the US to bring regime changes unfavorable to Russia there. However, as mentioned above, when China needed Russia’s help in dealing with the US, China switched to Russia’s side in order to win over Russia. It joined Russia three times in vetoing the UN Security Council decisions on Syria initiated by the West. China has thus greatly pleased Russia and took Russia to its side.
Still, the two countries had to overcome historical enmity and conflicts of interests and build mutual trust. That will be dealt with in my next post.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
American political system has the weakness of election being easily meddled with big money. China has the financial power to meddle but for what benefits?
Pence said that China is meddling to cause GOP (the Republican Party) to lose control of US Congress, but what benefits China may get by the very expensive meddling? The Democrats are as hostile and perhaps even more hostile to China than GOP. US interference with China’s disputes with other claimants over the South China Sea began when the Democrats were in power and Hilary Clinton (the Democratic presidential hopeful in last election) was US Secretary of State. The Democratic president Obama adopted the policy of pivot to China and TPP to contain China.
Due to difference in political system aggravated by media propaganda, there is quite widespread hostility toward China among American people so that for quite a few years, election candidates have vied with one another to make believe that they are most hostile towards China.
Since China and the US are in war (trade war is also a war) now, there is no need for China to adhere to its principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. The best way is to openly meddle to support the candidate China does not want to be elected so that naïve US voters hostile to China may vote down the candidate China does not like.
From this perspective, China is stupid to publish advertisement against Trump’s trade war if it wants GOP to lose control of US Congress.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Previously I had a few posts on the US pushing China into Russia’s arms by interference with China’s disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea and pushing Russia into China’s arms by sanctions over the Ukrainian issue.
Now, SCMP’s report “Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin hail ‘all-time high’ in ties, sign US$3 billion of nuclear deals” describes the close de facto alliance between China and Russia.
What does “all-time high” mean? Is there an alliance between Russia and China?
It means Russia-China tie is closer than alliance. Why? Because it is “all-time high”! The highest point must be in the 1950s when China and Russia’s predecessor the Soviet Union concluded the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance to establish an alliance between the two. Now, there has been no treaty of alliance, but the two are closer than they were treaty allies in the 1950s.
As mentioned above, the two have to thank the US for the alliance, which make them strong enough to openly challenge the US.
Russia challenged the West led by the US by sending troops into Ukraine to annex Crimea and split Ukraine. The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia to punish it. However, with China’s support, sanctions do not work. Russia has become more aggressive and even sent troops into Syria.
US former president Obama adopted the policy of pivot to Asia to interfere with China’s maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea in order to contain China. China responded by building seven artificial islands with three long airstrips on them in the South China Sea. The US failed to stop China promptly as it was distracted by Russia in Europe. Now with the artificial islands, China has de facto turned the South China Sea into its lake.
The US responds with a few freedom of navigation operations a year in the South China Sea. It will be joined by Britain and France that will also send navy to carry out similar operations there.
China says that it will never hinder freedom of navigation there but such operations shall not be the excuses for violating China’s sovereignty by entering China’s territorial waters.
China has turned the sea into its lake in order to exploit the rich fish and energy resources there. The US and EU know that well but do they dare to interfere with China’s exploitation of resources there?
The above is Obama’s contributions to China and Russia.
Now, it’s US President Trump’s turn. He is pushing Iran into China and Russia’s arms by unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Iran needs Chinese and Russian help to deal with US sanctions. SCMP says in the above-mentioned report, “Xi and Putin also vowed to make ‘all possible efforts’ to preserve the 2015 international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme that Trump abandoned last month.”
The Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has just become an organization of significance after recruiting India and Pakistan as its new members. Now, Iranian president has come to China to attend SCO summit and may very likely make real efforts for SCO membership.
The US is driving Iron to Russia’s and China’s side to enable them to form an Asian iron triangle to counter the US.
Does the US really need so many enemies?
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2149991/xi-jinping-vladimir-putin-hail-all-time-high-ties-sign.
There is the rumor that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls US President Donald Trump “moron”. Trump’s success in business proves that he is certainly not a moron so that it is said that Trump challenged Tillerson to an IQ competition.
Trump is certainly not less clever than Tillerson, but Tillerson as a diplomatic professional must be wiser in diplomacy to regard Trump a moron in his profession. There have perhaps been the following conversations between the “non-moron” and “moron”.
Non-moron (referred to as “N” below): You have withdrawn from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and thus scrapped the economic arm the Obama’s pivot to Asia. Do you want to entirely scrap the pivot?
Moron (referred to as “M” below): What good is the pivot to my “America first” for our economic growth and our people’s benefits?
N. But we will lose ASEAN and the South China Sea.
M. We lost ASEAN long ago. Their economic relations with China are much closer than with us. They now even refuse to take side between China and us.
N. What about the Philippines our long-term ally?
M. We lost it long ago when they drove away us by taking back our military bases there.
N. But they need our military protection.
M. Military protection? Forget that! All the countries we protect have been taking advantage of us. We have incurred heavy costs in protecting them, but they are unwilling to share the costs. They have taken advantage of our protection to maintain incredibly low military budgets. What is the result? They are prosperous while we are heavily in debt.
N. But without the pivot we cannot contain China.
M. Why shall we contain China in the first place?
N. If we do not stop its rise, it may one day replace us as world leader.
M. Can we stop China’s rise? No, we simply cannot stop its rise unless we fight a war with it. We will suffer a lot even if we win. China may still rise after the defeat. See Japan and Germany. They rise again after being defeated.
N. Whether China can be contained or not, you have to contain it. Otherwise lots of people will be unhappy. They want us to prevent our world leadership from being taken by China.
M. Since we cannot contain China and keep on declining, we will certainly lose world leadership to China. We simply cannot help that. Instead of containing China, I want to exploit China’s rise. Its expanding market will provide us with lots of opportunities to increase our exports to China. Xi has promised on phone to help us increase export to China.
N. If you fail to do anything to contain China, you may make lots of people unhappy and thus lose votes in the next election. Moreover, our allies and friends in Asia will lose confidence in us.
M. That is perhaps true, but to make our country prosperous, I have to do so.
N. No, we shall keep containing China while exploiting its rise.
M. You call me moron. You are a moron yourself. How can we contain China while exploiting its rise? You are self-contradictory.
N. You are a moron in diplomacy. Diplomacy is always characterized by tricks. Certainly, we have to strive for better relations with China in order to exploit its rise, but we have to keep on containing China. We can do that.
M. How can we do that?
N. That’s why you need me as your secretary of state. We shall replace Obama’s hopeless Asia-Pacific strategy of pivot to Asia with an Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. Indo-Pacific means both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, much larger than Asia-Pacific. That shows that we are expanding our containment of China to the two oceans. It will certainly please lots of people at home who want to contain China.
Moreover, we will make India, Japan and Australia happy as they are scared by China’s rise. We will conduct drills of the military of us four countries seemingly directed at China, but you will tell Xi by phone the drill is not directed at China. You will be the good guy while I will be the bad guy. That will be the game we will play to satisfy everyone.
M. There seems not enough pressure to make others believe that we are really containing China.
N. We can make that believable. We will supply India with weapons to enable it to have enough military strength in the Indian Ocean to scare China and make that believable. India has the ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean with its geographical advantages and our advanced weapons.
M. Our weapons are very expensive. Can India afford them?
N. India needs our advanced weapons for its security as it feels very much unsafe being sandwiched between China and Pakistan. Therefore, it will dedicate all its available financial resources to the purchase of our advanced weapons. Our Indo-China strategy will not only pit India against China to divert China’s attention but also enable us to make lots of money from sales of weapons.
As a result, the “non-moron” Tillerson gave a speech for US-India alliance in Indo-Pacific titled “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century” at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on October 18. The alliance aims at containing China but Tillerson did not make it directly clear.
CSIS CEO John J. Hamre quoted Tillerson’s words in the speech, “We need to collaborate with India to ensure the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity, so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.” Then he wanted Tillerson to make clear whom the alliance is directed at by asking him “Would you – what do you see as being the example of predatory economics that we should be alert to ourselves, between us?”
Tillerson said in his reply, “We have watched the activities and actions of others in the region, in particular China, and the financing mechanisms it brings to many of these countries, which result in saddling them with enormous levels of debt.”
He made it crystal clear that US alliance with India aims at containing China so as “to ensure the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity”. He has thus played the bad guy that wants to contain China and hinder China’s Belt and Road initiative, accusing the initiative of saddling other countries with enormous level of debt.
Since then, Trump repeatedly mentioned the term “Indo-Pacific” and talked about ensuring peace, stability and growing prosperity there to give the impression that what Tillerson said about Indo-Pacific is his idea to contain China. He has thus pleased lots of people and US allies and friends.
The US Indo-Pacific initiative has made India so excited that it neglects its long-term friend Russia and has even showed US military the advanced nuclear submarine that Russia has rented it. (See Global Times report in Chinese on November 10 titled “租我核潜艇却请美军进入！俄对印度很愤慨 (Rent my nuclear submarine but invite US military to enter the submarine! Russia very much upset by India)” at http://mil.huanqiu.com/observation/2017-11/11370855.html.)
However Trump plays the good guy when he visited China to make China believe he wants to be China’s friend. That will enable him to benefit from China’s rise.
Good trick, Indo-Pacific! Make India contain China and profit by weapon sales to India in the course of the containment while the US benefiting from improved relations with China. Wonderful!
Article by Chan Kai Yee
The US instigated the Philippines to file an arbitration case at Hague and enabled the Philippines to obtain an arbitration award to entirely deny China’s rights and interests in the South China Sea. It sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to force China to accept the arbitration but China was not scared. It responded with the resolution to fight a war to defend its rights and interests.
The US had to give up as it does not want a war with China for others’ rights and interests.
Entirely disappointed, Philippine President Duterte sought recovery of friendship with China at the expense of the US.
To contain China with the South China Sea disputes, US hope lies on Vietnam as China has forced it to stop drilling for oil and gas in the disputed waters and thus upset it.
However, Vietnamese media’s good response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s article on Vietnamese Communist Party’s mouthpiece quashed US hope in pitting Vietnam against China.
Seeing that no countries in Southeast China support US stance on enforcing Hague arbitration, US President Trump was wise to quickly change its stance. According to Reuters’ report “Trump offers to mediate on South China Sea” yesterday, the US has now thrown Hague arbitration award to the rubbish bin and offered its mediation or arbitration to resolve South China Sea disputes specifically the disputes between Vietnam and China when Trump met with his Vietnamese counterpart.
Trump’s offer was soon indirectly rejected by Chinese and Vietnamese communist party general secretaries Xi Jinping and Nguyen Phu Trong according to Reuters’ another report “Vietnam, China avoid quarrel over South China Sea during visit” the same day. Since quarrel is to be avoided, there certainly will be no quarrel to be resolved by mediation or arbitration.
There will in fact be no quarrel on disputes in the South China Sea when US President Trump does not interfere just like the time when Trump’s predecessor had not started his interference.
Obama interfered in order to contain China. Does Trump not want to contain China?
I will give an answer in my next post “Non-Moron’s Advice to Moron: Replacing Asia-Pacific with Indo-Pacific”.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ reports, full text of which can respectively be viewed at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-asia-vietnam/trump-offers-to-mediate-on-south-china-sea-idUSKBN1DC04H and http://www.reuters.com/article/us-vietnam-china/vietnam-china-avoid-quarrel-over-south-china-sea-during-visit-idUSKBN1DC0P7.