China and Russia: True Love or Marriage of Convenience?

Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China meet in Benaulim, India, October 15, 2016 (Kremlin)

China and Russia are making common cause at a time when Donald Trump’s America is turning its back on the world. Are we seeing the beginning of a global partnership? Or is this only a marriage of convenience? Experts disagree. Read more “China and Russia: True Love or Marriage of Convenience?”

Trump Cedes Initiative to China and Russia

  • Edward Luce argues in the Financial Times that Donald Trump is allowing China to take the lead in artificial intelligence and robotics. Whereas Trump is sabotaging his own country’s edge by proposing to cut investment spending, reduce visas for high-skilled migrants and pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, China is spending generously, drawing in foreign talent and developing its “One Belt and One Road” trade initiative.
  • Michael Crowley reports for Politico that Trump is ceding postwar planning in Syria to Vladimir Putin, allowing not only Russia but Iran to maintain a foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean. The effect: Egypt and Turkey, once bulwarks of American influence in the Middle East, are eying an entente with Moscow.

Donald Trump Ignores All of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Advice

For almost a century, America’s strategic priority has been to prevent the emergence of a dominant power in Eurasia that could challenge it for world supremacy.

Halford Mackinder recognized as early as 1904 that a single power could lord over the continent if it controlled the entire Eurasian “Heartland”, stretching from Moscow to Tehran to Vladivostok.

Alfred Thayer Mahan and Nicholas Spykman argued it was rather control of the “Rimlands” on the edge of Eurasia that could tip the balance of power: Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.

Their ideas were not mutually exclusive. They both informed the United States’ successful policy of containment during the Cold War. To block Russian ambitions, America allied with democratic Europe, Turkey, the shah’s Iran and Japan. It exploited the Sino-Soviet split and armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan to hasten the Soviet Union’s demise.

Now Donald Trump is overturning this century-old wisdom. Read more “Donald Trump Ignores All of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Advice”

Mar-a-Lago Summit Overshadowed by Syria Strikes

Xi Jinping
Chinese president Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17 (WEF/Valeriano Di Domenico)

The recent summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping was unprecedented in its fashion and noteworthy in several respects.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida was an unusual venue for the first meeting between the two most powerful men on the planet. Barack Obama’s summits with the Chinese president were more formal.

The summit was expected to shed light on the policies of both leaders toward various smoldering issues: North Korea, Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and Sino-American trade relations. Read more “Mar-a-Lago Summit Overshadowed by Syria Strikes”

Stop Reading Masterplans into Donald Trump’s Mistakes

Theresa May Donald Trump
British prime minister Theresa May speaks with American president Donald Trump the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, January 27 (10 Downing Street/Jay Allen)

Donald Trump’s first weeks as president have been so shambolic, it is almost hard to believe he can really be so incompetent.

Indeed, some refuse to. From his misguided attacks on the judiciary to his botched diplomacy with China, these are observers who read masterplans into Trump’s puerile behavior.

Please don’t.

If there is one thing we have learned about Trump, it’s that he is self-absorbed and ill-tempered. He had no political experience before seeing the presidency and now surrounds himself in the White House with sycophants and zealots, as opposed to critical thinkers and professionals.

The more likely explanation for his mistakes is that they are just that: mistakes. Read more “Stop Reading Masterplans into Donald Trump’s Mistakes”

Remember Trump’s “One China” Threat? It Was a Stupid Bluff

Remember when Donald Trump, then newly elected, accepted a phone call from the president of Taiwan and his apologists told us it was all part of a masterplan? If it meant revising the “One China” policy, they said, well, maybe that needed revising anyway? Who’s China to say which countries America can and cannot recognize!

My interpretation was that Trump was simply ignorant of the sensitivities of Sino-Americans relations and had blundered his way into a diplomatic incident.

Trump’s first phone call with the president of China, Xi Jinping, supports that contention.

The White House’s readout of the conversation, which took place on Thursday, says, “Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘One China’ policy.” Read more “Remember Trump’s “One China” Threat? It Was a Stupid Bluff”

Uncertainty in China as Trump Takes Office

Guangzhou China
Guangzhou, China at night, September 16, 2013 (Johnas)

This weekend, more than a billion Chinese will gather with their families to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster. It is a lively tradition, the biggest family celebration in the year and, like New Year’s Eve in the West, it breathes the magic of the new.

But with the inauguration of the new American president, Donald Trump, it is even more unpredictable what this new year will bring. Read more “Uncertainty in China as Trump Takes Office”

World Upside Down: China Defends Globalization from America

Xi Jinping
Chinese president Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17 (WEF/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Chinese president Xi Jinping defended globalization in an address to the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, likening the world’s interconnectedness to a “big ocean that you cannot escape from.”

Xi didn’t mention Donald Trump, but his speech sounded like a warning to the incoming American president.

“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking one’s self in a dark room,” Xi said: “Wind and rain might be kept outside but so are light and air.”

He also warned that “no one would emerge as a winner” from a trade war.

Trump has called for higher tariffs on imported goods and measures against what he calls unfair Chinese trade practices. Read more “World Upside Down: China Defends Globalization from America”

Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III

American Japanese fighter jets
An American B-52 Stratofortress bomber leads a formation of American and Japanese fighter jets over Guam, February 21, 2011 (USAF/Angelita M. Lawrence)

Surely you know already the tripwire: Taiwan is a de facto country but a de jure province of mainland China. The people’s republic wants to bring it back under mainland China’s rule while the people of Taiwan want exactly the opposite.

Moreover, Taiwan’s military security is guaranteed by the United States via the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which stipulates the United States must respond militarily to a communist invasion.

So if the PRC tries to bring Taiwan back into the fold by military force, the United States must retaliate. Conventional battles turn to nuclear battles and then we all die in the irradiated glow of our own monstrous weapons. Read more “Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III”

The Giant Awakes: America Begins to Reclaim Top Spot

Xi Jinping Barack Obama
Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Barack Obama of the United States speak at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, June 8, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

Here now is the predictability of geopolitics coming to the top of the news cycle: when you are top dog, you don’t take kindly to anyone trying to tear you down.

In the last week the United States, an empire in all but name, has struck back against its chief rivals. The first occurred in the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has constructed whole islands right in the middle of heavily-trafficked and potentially resource-rich waves. China’s plan was to extend its sea claim outwards from these islands, but the United States thwarted that scheme by sending a warship directly into China’s no-gone zone.

Meanwhile, in Syria’s murderous civil war, Russia’s deployment of bombers and tanks has now begun to be matched with the public announcement America is sending forces to fight in Iraq and to train allies in Syria.

In other words, the empire is striking back. But it’s playing by some well-defined rules as it does. Read more “The Giant Awakes: America Begins to Reclaim Top Spot”