- First Ukraine and now Palestine, a distracted United States offers a window for Beijing to regroup and reinforce for the inevitable next fight
Top US envoy to China Nicholas Burns said he was satisfied with the recent high-level engagement to stabilise ties between the two countries. “It’s insanity to think we want this relationship to descend into conflict or a war,” he said.
In the latest, President Xi Jinping unexpectedly met US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in Beijing. It looks likely that Xi and his US counterpart Joe Biden will meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in San Francisco next month.
Is the United States trying to dial down the hostilities? Probably, for now. The mainstream US media seem to have cooled down on their most unhinged vitriol against China recently. Whenever the US is readying for war, in this case a cold war, you can be sure the war-cheering media will fall over themselves to demonise America’s enemy du jour.
But for now, Washington’s “pivot to Asia” – read squeezing China – may have to take a short break.00:27
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Of course, the US posture can turn on a dime. Hostilities are being institutionalised across the US government and foreign policy establishment. Among these are the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Office of China Coordination at the State Department and a dedicated China task force at the Pentagon – all set up during the Biden presidency.
However, first Ukraine and now Palestine, Uncle Sam just can’t catch a break.
One big problem with running a global empire is that you inevitably have your fingers in too many pies. China was going to be that one big pie to take care of. But it’s proving to be hard to bake when other pies are burning. Now those require serious attention.
Ukraine alone would have been a great diversion. Even if you are not putting boots on the ground, running a proxy war is not easy. The much-vaunted Western unity is cracking. As the war drags on, European economies are hit badly and victory is proving to be elusive, keeping the vassals in check will be increasingly difficult.
US weapons supplies are running low so even the Ukrainians now fret whether they might have to share them with the Israelis in the latter’s war in Gaza.
Since the Sino-Soviet break in the 1960s, it has been a fundamental tenet in US foreign policy to keep the two great powers apart. At any one time, the US needs to keep either one or the other close. But then, the Biden White House thinks the US can take on both at the same time.
Its proxy war in Ukraine has driven Russia straight into the arms of China. It’s amusing to read China critics who complain Beijing won’t denounce Moscow or join Western sanctions. Their own government has made sure they jump in bed together despite their conflicting interests.
And then Hamas struck … That’s a tragedy for the Palestinians and Israelis, but a gift to Beijing and Moscow. It ends Washington’s dream of leaving behind a relatively stable Middle East to take the fight to China.
Yet again, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has taken centre stage, and Washington will struggle to keep alive the 2020 Abraham Accords, which ignored the Palestinians but normalised relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The big prize was to have been full diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, all done by ignoring Palestinians’ legitimate interests and aspirations. That has just gone up in smoke as the proverbial Arab street demands unity in support of the Palestinians.
The US Navy has to redeploy two of its most sophisticated aircraft carriers back to the Mediterranean. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has essentially pledged whatever weapons Israel wants, Israel gets. It will be tough to keep the other friendly authoritarian Arab states in line as the Israelis level Gaza – to contain the crisis from spreading in the volatile region.
This is a window for Beijing to regroup and reinforce for the next “insane” round of US hostilities.