‘Global China’ conceit is only possible because of America’s rising inability to do diplomacy
There is a reason the West is watching China’s moves on the world chessboard with appalled fascination. Just days ago, Beijing brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And this week began with China’s President Xi Jinping suggesting a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.
Sections of the US media are in little doubt about what we were seeing when Mr Xi visited Russia. It’s the “arrival of a more global China”, intoned one heavyweight paper from the Beltway, the circumferential highway that encircles Washington, DC. It quoted an analyst, who discerned China building a “new Asian and then global order”. Another leading American paper offered the following take: “Russia-China Summit Showcases Challenge to the West”.
Why such gloom about the “challenge”? Is the challenge even real? China’s so-called peace plan is dead in the water. Vladimir Putin himself forestalled the Western response by saying that while he welcomed it, others would not. Sure enough, US secretary of state Antony Blinken promptly described the Kremlin’s enthusiasm for the proposal as “tactical”. He added that it was aimed at freezing the Ukraine war “on its own terms”. He’s not wrong there. The plan would have involved an end to Western sanctions without requiring Russia’s withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.
Considering Mr Xi’s first notable intervention in the Ukraine war is a non-starter, how to read China’s moves on the world stage? And why be so depressed about them if you’re in Washington or any other capital in the geopolitical West?
I think the answer was clearly spelt out by American Indian journalist Fareed Zakaria in a recent Washington Post op-ed (paywall). He noted that American “foreign policy today usually consists of grand moral declarations that divide the world into black and white, friends and foes. Those statements quickly get locked in place with sanctions and legislation, making policies even more rigid. The political atmosphere becomes so charged that merely talking with a ‘foe’ becomes risky”.
By pursuing a foreign policy that “is all too often an exercise in making demands and issuing threats and condemnations,” the US now makes very little effort to understand the other side’s views or actually negotiate, he added.
The Chinese are trying to fill a huge gap, one that the West and the rest can clearly see, far in the distance.