Guest Opinion: For U.S., there is no diplomacy but all coercion

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by Xin Ping

BEIJING, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Just as the United States invented American English, it also created the diplomatic lingo for its way of handling state-to-state relations. One of the go-to methods is "coercive diplomacy."

It was first used by American scholar Alexander George to describe how a person or a country backs his or her demand to an adversary, not by violence, but by a threat of punishment for noncompliance. The academic ingenuity was displayed in the 1990s, near the end of the Cold War, as a relatively low-cost means to further the U.S. strategic agenda.

Today, the historical context for the term's creation has almost faded from memory, but the United States is still coercing others and flouting the rules in the same way it has been acting for the past 30 years. Obsessed with "coercive diplomacy," the United States is frequently invoking intimidation and punishment, even direct military intervention at times.

To date, Washington has imposed economic sanctions on nearly 40 countries, affecting nearly half of the world population. No U.S. president beats Donald Trump in wielding the baton of coercion. During his term, the United States slapped nearly 1,000 sanctions each year, equivalent to three sanctions per day. In particular, to increase its geopolitical influence in the Middle East, his administration started a maximum pressure campaign on Iran by reactivating and ramping up sanctions, and threatening Iran's partners with so-called secondary sanctions, all in the hope of bringing Iran to its knees.

Unsurprisingly, Iran's oil export nosedived by more than 80 percent at the end of 2020 from the 2017 level. The escalation of U.S. pressure culminated with the assassination of Iran's top military commander Qassem Soleimani, which trespassed the fine line between diplomatic coercion and plain criminality.

U.S. coercion does not discriminate friends from foes. To keep China down in sci-tech development and long-term growth, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put forward a "clean network" initiative, attempting to decouple with China technologically and rope in its allies and partners, even though knowing that it would not bring them any benefit.

In his latest book The Secret History of the Five Eyes, British investigative journalist Richard Kerbaj recreated the scene of Matthew Pottinger, the then U.S. National Security Council Asia director, making "five hours of shouting with a prepared, angry and weirdly non-threatening script," to force Britain to remove all 5G equipment made by Chinese tech giant Huawei from its telecommunications network. Though without a shred of evidence, Pottinger got his job done anyway, while Britain had to take the bitter pill all by itself. The British government's decision to ban Huawei would delay 5G rollout in the country for three years and cost it at least 2 billion British pounds (2.15 billion U.S. dollars) to be Huawei-free by 2027.

Dr. Henry Kissinger has made the most discerning observation of all -- "it may be dangerous to be America's enemy, but to be America's friend is fatal."

Before assuming the post of National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan criticized Trump since "his strategy is all coercion and no diplomacy." But the Biden administration has been following the same course.

Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out in late February, the United States has been leading the pressure campaign against Russia, primarily with financial sanctions to cripple the Russian economy amid COVID-19, and indirectly with continuous weapon supplies to Ukraine to exhaust Russia on the battlefield.

As Washington increases its pressure, Russia's response has been firm and resolute: suspending natural gas transport via the Nord Stream II pipeline and blocking food exports from Ukrainian ports. The halt has hurt Europe dearly, pushing energy and food prices through the roof. President Joe Biden himself admitted in March that "the price of the sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia. It's imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well."

If 200 days were too short for the United States to understand the limit of coercive diplomacy, 20 years should have been long enough. The United States resorted to the ultimate form of coercion in 2001 by invading Afghanistan in the hope of toppling the Taliban, but failed miserably in this "grand strategy" with the Taliban returning to power in 2021. Nevertheless, the United States still has not given up the fantasy that coercion would work and make the Taliban cave in.

The United States and a few other Western countries rejected Afghanistan's demand to unfreeze 7 billion dollars of its assets, even when up to 22.8 million Afghans -- more than half of the country's population -- were facing life-threatening food shortage in the past winter. Worse still, the incumbent U.S. administration has brazenly decided to take away half of the frozen assets for its own domestic use. Just recently, the United States announced a transfer of 3.5 billion dollars of Afghan central bank assets to a new Swiss-based trust fund, and its Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo openly said that no money would go to the Afghan central bank until it is "free of political interference."

The United States has a habit of abusing its economic, technological, political and sometimes military strengths to pursue its selfish interests. Just like the drug overdose epidemic in the United States, coercion is addictive and harmful. All the immediate interests and pleasure generated only expose U.S. incompetence and fragility, and squeeze the space of reason and prudence. Enditem

(The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, CGTN, China Daily etc. He can be reached at

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