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Biden is Losing Sleep Over China

Biden is Losing Sleep Over China

Thursday, 1 April, 2021 - 11:30
Mamdouh al-Muhainy
Mamdouh al-Muhainy is the General Manager of Al Arabiya and Al Hadath.

The international order that we see today was shaped after a long period of religious wars between the Catholics and Protestants, most famously the Thirty Years War.


The warring parties came to the conclusion that no side could emerge victorious from these religious wars and that the economy could not flourish amid constant incursions by religious fanatics. Here, one finds the importance of the Peace of Westphalia. Signed in 1648, it laid the groundwork for modern Europe, which later developed into a framework for the international order. The most important aspects of this peace treaty are some of the international laws that we have today, such as laws that prohibit the violation of states’ sovereignty and the imposition of a religion by force or coercion on populations to avoid civil strife between the fighting sects. The idea of nationalism emerged during these times as geographical boundaries started to be a reality, as did the concept of secularism, the separation of the state from the church, giving sovereign states the right to choose their political and economic system without external forces inference. Any law that spared blood protected states’ borders and restrained fanatics is welcomed.


The new order, however, enemies to this order began emerging from the get-go, the most prominent of them, at that time, was Russia, which opposed it under the pretext that the peace treaty served Western interests and shaped the future of the region in its image. The Western powers managed, however, to preserve, expand and spread their political doctrine. Great Britain lost its role as the primary protector of this order after the decline in its power, while the United States took the mantle from World War II and onwards. The new order came to be called the American liberal order.


However, perhaps for the first time, this order is faced with a real threat with China’s rise and its latest agreement with Iran. When US President Joe Biden was recently asked about his thoughts on this agreement, he replied that he had been worried about such an agreement for years. His concern is that the Chinese publicly defied the US order in the region, with the Chinese foreign minister criticizing and saying that the international order is founded on American rules.


We are now witnessing the first signs of a clash that the famous US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned against. He once said that the biggest challenge for any US president is averting military conflict with Beijing, and at the same time, limiting its influence and bringing it into the international order that the Europeans and Americans shaped hundreds of years ago. The Chinese, on the other hand, seek to design their international order.


If we look back at history, the story of the Nixon administration’s story with China is a perfect example of how international conflicts are managed at high levels. Washington decided, at the time, to get closer to China and the Soviet Union so that they would not form an alliance against it themselves. It understood that an alliance between the two influential forces would inevitably undermine US interests and reduce its influence. The rapprochement with China made the Soviet Union feel isolated at the beginning, so it sought to create a balanced relationship with the Americans, and this is what happened. From the 1970s onwards, the world entered a state of balance and a long phase of stability, devoid of wars and clashes, which encouraged unprecedented economic prosperity, and so began the era of globalization and beyond.


But now we may witness a new era in the international arena and a new approach in dealing with these issues under the Biden administration, even regarding the US image of itself, its relationship with its traditional allies, and its poor relationship with the Russians (worsened further after Biden described Putin as a murderer), as well as the Chinese. Here, we should remember that US and Chinese foreign ministers, not long ago, exchanged verbal blows on camera.


How will the Biden administration deal with all of these worrying issues that keep the president up at night?


It could be said that there are different international policy and strategy approaches within the administration. The first is that of Joe Biden, who is an ardent defender of the alliance with Europe and the maintenance of the liberal order in which the United States’ power flourishes uncontested, but he is facing strong pressure from the leftists within his party and from his base, which opposed the previous approach to foreign policy.

They want Biden to take revenge for Russia’s interference in the election (this is why he described Putin as a killer... to appease his base, though this brought no political benefits).


If Biden wins on the international stage, confrontation with China will be forthcoming. Another popular approach that has support within the Democratic Party and the administration is that we are living in a post-US-ordered world, and powers will emerge, most prominently China, to help us carry the world’s burden. They believe the US policeman does not suffice, and it would be better if the Chinese also played the role of a policeman and helped manage the world’s issues. However, when they rise, great powers impose their conditions, even their values, on the world. They are not satisfied by a small share of political influence and economic gains. Many Chinese officials have expressed this in the recent past, which could lead to halting the old agreements the EU had signed, half a century ago, without taking the Chinese or the Russians’ opinion into account.


Is it revenge that has been delayed over 500 years? No one has the answer yet.


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