US Doesn’t Know How To Deal with China. And Russia. And the Whole World*


*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Why was Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu a guest of honor at the Xiangshan Forum in China rather than just an ordinary guest? Why did the forum draw a record-breaking attendance of defense officials from 90 countries, and why are they taking it so seriously?

Because the world is at a critical juncture, and its future is at stake. The choice we face is between the continued and uncontrolled confrontation between different nations and good old détente. As the forum host, China is now leading the way toward a détente — with the U.S. After all, the most influential people have gathered in Beijing to discuss the most valuable information on strategic and defense topics.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently visited the U.S. and held discussions with the highest-ranking officials in the Biden administration besides the president himself. He also participated in at least two gatherings with top-level defense experts and gave interviews. While sharing his thoughts on the current state of China-U.S. relations, he expressed his belief that more must be done to establish principles of future relations acceptable to Beijing. Despite both countries’ having tried to reach an agreement for over a year, they have been unable to do so. During this time, all the senior officials of the Biden administration have visited Beijing in search of common ground.

So far, however, it is clear that the U.S. is fighting a losing battle against its strategic rival; continuing its confrontational approach toward China, which began under Donald Trump’s presidency, is no longer feasible, at least to the same extent. The U.S. is facing the impossible challenge of fighting on two fronts, Ukraine and Taiwan, against two nuclear powers simultaneously. The situation in the Middle East is also escalating, making it even more challenging to engage in a third front. The U.S. allies are terrified, and it’s unclear what course of action should be taken.

Beijing’s solution is very simple. China proposes mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation where feasible. However, to achieve this, the U.S. needs to do something about the endless sanctions against China, the constant military drills in the seas around that country, not to mention the hate campaigns against all things Chinese. Perhaps a capitulation? A pause?

Following Wang’s trip to the U.S., it was decided to continue preparing for a face-to-face meeting between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden at next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, California. However, this outcome leaves more to be desired. After all, a similar meeting was held a year ago in Indonesia, and the U.S. has already begun to undo the progress made there. Additionally, the upcoming 2024 presidential election and the uncertainty of who will be in power in Washington in a year and a half add to the situation’s complexity.

Whether or not a détente will occur remains to be seen. However, a similar situation arose in the early 1970s, leading to the famous declaration called the “Basic Principles of Relations between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.,” signed by Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon at the Moscow Summit on May 30, 1972. The declaration dealt with precisely the same principles the U.S. and China are currently trying to establish — peaceful coexistence, equality and respect for each other’s security interests, and so on. In short, all the principles that have no alternatives in a nuclear age. The process of adhering to these principles was called a détente — no more, no less. It wasn’t a friendship but only a reduction in the intensity of confrontation to a mutually acceptable level.

Why did détente happen in the 1970s? Precisely for the same reasons that China and America are exploring it today. The U.S. was losing the war in Indochina, and American society and the state were falling apart — let’s remember who was shooting down American airplanes over Vietnam, with future Sen. John McCain as one of the pilots. As a result, a nuclear war between the two superpowers was becoming a reality, and it had to be decided whether to move toward it or away from it. This meant working out the principles of nonconfrontation and peaceful competition, especially since Washington’s unhappy allies wanted the same.

So, there is a model to follow. But why is the second détente — this time between Washington and Beijing — so hard to achieve? There are several reasons for this. First, the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was equal to the U.S. in terms of its nuclear arsenal but lagged behind in international trade and gross domestic product. Second, the Soviet Union had fewer allies and partners than China has today. Third, the ruble did not compete with the dollar in the world economy. On the other hand, while the Chinese yuan is only the world’s fifth currency today, the rate at which its circulation is expanding is incredible. Last, the economies of the U.S. and the Soviet Union were not as interdependent as the American and Chinese economies today. For instance, Chinese airlines currently operate 35 direct weekly fights between the two countries. In short, things are more complicated and serious for Americans today.

And a couple of closing remarks. The second global détente is undoubtedly beneficial to Russia for many reasons, primarily because it will make the world more predictable, just like the first one. Indeed, the next détente between Russia and the U.S. will follow a similar pattern, involving a lengthy process of working out the principles of relations between the two countries. However, it’s important to remember that while the 1970s were marked by high expectations of perpetual cooperation and mutual respect, America soon changed its mind, ended the détente, and resumed seeking undivided global domination.

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About Nikita Gubankov 102 Articles
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, I've recently graduated from University College London, UK, with an MSc in Translation and Technology. My interests include history, current affairs and languages. I'm currently working full-time as an account executive in a translation and localization agency, but I'm also a keen translator from English into Russian and vice-versa, as well as Spanish into English.

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