​China's alliances against America

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 10, 2018
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With tensions rising between Beijing and Washington, China is seeking to use its ties with Russia and the EU to counter American unilateralism. [Photo/Xinhua]

In 2016, I was asked if I foresaw China seeking allies in the future. I said yes, China, like any other great power, commensurate to its economic might and geopolitical interests, would come to a point when it could have to look for geopolitical and economic allies. There is a simple distinction to be made here. Looking to build up alliances doesn't mean pacts or treaties of the type chartered prior to the First World War. However, the world is unfortunately re-entering a phase of great power rivalry, which means there will be tactical alignments between different power centers based on the issues of the day. 

Recently, there have been alignment formations commensurate with the changing geopolitics and economics. The first is an alignment between Russia and China. China's defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, on his trip to Moscow was quoted by state news agency Tass saying, "I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation," adding: "The Chinese side has come to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia ... We've come to support you." This is a remarkable statement in light of the complications in the Middle East. Opposition to liberal interventionism, which has elsewhere been voiced by many major powers and a significant amount of the Western population as well, was reflected in this alignment. 

Even more importantly, Beijing and Brussels are pondering opportunities to align against a trade confrontation with the United States. China on Friday asked the EU to take a joint stand against U.S. protectionism. "China and the EU ... should take a clear stance against protectionism, jointly preserve the rules-based multilateral trade order, and keep the global economy on a sound and sustainable track," Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese mission to the EU, was quoted saying by AFP, adding: "This is a joint responsibility of China and the EU. We must act together to make that happen." 

The EU itself faces a protracted trade war with the U.S. In some ways, American officials are open to negotiating with China. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to claim that his friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to be continued, a hint at a compromise. American officials also didn't fathom Beijing's response and are now reportedly looking for more negotiations and compromises.

The EU, however, suffers from a disadvantage compared to China. China is a single entity, and Chinese comparative advantage over the U.S. and EU is high. The EU, on the other hand, is divided, and the countries which make up the European Union each have their own economic interests to keep in mind.

The EU is naturally reticent in taking sides between China and the U.S., even though smart people in the bloc are perfectly aware that it is inevitable at some point in time. The EU responded by saying how free and fair trade is the key to a prosperous world. But the more significant statement came later, when the EU said it is planning to mediate between China and the U.S. in a trade dispute by supporting a multilateral and rules-based trade system. The European Commission's Jyrki Katainen and Valdis Dombrovskis jointly said that the EU would try to “stabilize the current situation" and keep blowback under control. 

Ultimately, however, this is not a long-term solution, and it will sooner or later be clear what the trend lines are. If the EU and the U.S. double down on their own trade differences, then there will be a compromise between Beijing and Washington. Brussels will then be in the American crosshairs. If, however, the compromise between China and the U.S. fails, it will be up for Chinese policymakers to look for solid support and alliances. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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