by Patrick Porter
Friday, 10
June 2022
Analysis
13:30

Washington is falling into China’s trap

By trying to defend everything, it risks defending nothing
by Patrick Porter

Russia’s war in Ukraine may finish with no clear winner, but there is another country who will benefit: China. Indeed, Russia is now more dependent than ever on China’s patronage, and ties between the two countries have been deepening for some time.

A Eurasian axis — more a collaborative non-aggression pact than an alliance — has been forming for years, based on a shared determination to roll back western preponderance. It features increased economic ties, military exercises, and large-scale military technology transfers, from Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 air defence systems to a joint early warning system project. Now that Russia has been isolated from most of the western world, this relationship has become more lopsided in China’s favour, with Xi Jinping quietly increasing the purchase of raw materials like oil, gas, and coal at a discount.

Some emphasise that Russia is a diminished, Potemkin power. As in the past, though, Russia may survive stagnation, even if only as a large version of North Korea that generates periodic crises. China’s alignment with Russia may harm its reputation, but not much outside the West and U.S. treaty allies. Thus far, other major regional states — India, South Africa, and U.S. partners in the Gulf — have hedged, refusing to treat Ukraine as a defining struggle for world order, and helping Russia to prevent its economic collapse. The West is not the world, and projecting power is no longer dependent on its approval.

Russia’s reduced status will also leave China less fearful of its mainland border. With more local stability in lands where their interests overlap, this will enable both countries to redeploy combat power to the main theatres of contestation where they can apply pressure simultaneously on Nato’s eastern flank and the Indo-Pacific.

As for Taiwan, balancing Russia in Ukraine does not straightforwardly deter China’s adventurism across the Strait. As well as diverting military power, sanctions on Russian trade also deplete the sanctioning states. In turn, that makes it harder economically to repeat the effort elsewhere in the short to medium term. Were China to move on Taiwan soon, European states would be reluctant to wage economic warfare against Beijing at the same time as Moscow. Western states cannot blockade and Lend-Lease all the time.

China will gain especially if Washington continues to misinterpret the war in Ukraine as a lesson in the need to spread its power across Europe and Asia. The war in Ukraine is splitting U.S. strategic attention: note America’s vast “Lend-Lease” aid to Ukraine, increased military presence in Europe, and the rewriting of its National Security Strategy with a partial rebalance to Europe. Neither can we rule out further distraction, for instance if Iran’s accelerating nuclear programme triggers another crisis in the Middle East.

Rather than rank its adversaries, burden shift to allies and concentrate its power, Washington is falling prey to strategic indiscipline. Defending everything, it risks defending nothing. Joe Biden needs to engage in a course correction — and he needs to do so now.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
7 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
J Bryant
J Bryant
17 days ago

This article seems like a balanced assessment of the US’s geopolitical options that applies to Biden and his successors.
The author was limited to a short article but with more space he could have considered the issue of overuse of economic sanctions by the US, and how even its friends are likely to want to diversify away from the US economy in future for fear they, too, might one day be sanctioned.
Then there’s the issue of how long the deeply divided and increasingly unstable US can maintain its economic might and control over the global financial system.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
17 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The ‘instability’ of the US isn’t much reported here. Polarisation, yes, but no real fear of actual political or military break down.

Is it really a possibility? Outside the online discourse, is Main St really affected?

J Bryant
J Bryant
17 days ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

That’s a good question. I should probably choose my words more carefully. Instead of saying “instability”, which implies political or social collapse, probably “dysfunction” is a better word.
Modern US government lurches from one extreme to another and there is no unifying national agenda or consistent set of policy objectives. With the increasing politicization of the universities I now question the US’s ability to maintain its technical/scientific edge. These trends will adversely effect the economy and the US’s economic clout in the world.
As to whether there is a realistic possibility of social breakdown, I’d say not yet but if current trends continue the chances of some sort of social unravelling may increase.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
16 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Interesting, thanks

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
17 days ago

How on earth has the Free World ended up being led by a usurper and brain dead moron, aided and abetted by a modern day version of Messalina? It is a catastrophe of epic proportions which may well lead to WWIII.

Last edited 17 days ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Jonathan Keats
Jonathan Keats
14 days ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Start learning Mandarin

Jonathan Keats
Jonathan Keats
14 days ago

The US’s strategy on Ukraine has been arguably over enthusiastic since its involvement in Maidan when Nuland famously told the EU where to go. Whilst democracies should be free to choose their own course they cannot ignore history, geography and the clear tension between Russia and Nato. Nothing justifies Russia’s approach but the “deaf ears” response to the Ukraine NATO question was made worse by US encouragement of Ukraine to ignore the option of neutrality (which the US and Russia would have to made a tri-party agreement) , not to agree a peace and to push for NATO involvement
We could all see what would happen, including the US military and foreign office
In their own words – “the objective is destroy a much of Putins conventional fighting capacity as possible . we will do everything we can without putting US boots on the ground or planes in the Air, Amercia doesn’t want a war with Russia”
Whether they like it or not the US (more the liberal extremists than the right ) have aligned Russia and China more closely just as the latter seems to have left ahead on hypersonic tech…
America always seems to charge in without a plan – and sadly we seem to follow
If Amercia/Nato don’t get round the table with Putin and Zelensky soon there will be a significant catastrophe – either of Ukrainian dead or a “misstake” with western rockets fired by Ukraine into Russian territory because that’s their only option to bring the west into direct conflict to save themselves.
Its not looking good!

Last edited 14 days ago by Mark Cole