“To eat or be eaten”? – Blinken’s culinary view of World Politics

10:46 28.02.2024 •

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Photo: Korea Herald

Top American diplomat said a mouthful when he wheeled out the adage about being ‘on the menu’ if you are not at the table as a dining guest, notes a columnist of ‘South China Morning Post’.

Call it the restaurant theory of international relations. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained at the Munich Security Conference more than a week ago, “if you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu”.

He was responding to a question about rising US-China tensions, and the “greater fragmentation” they are causing to global politics.

The comment has set the Chinese blogosphere ablaze. In an editorial, the Global Times gave it a colourful Chinese translation: “If you’re not the knife and the chopping board, you’ll be the fish and meat on the board.”

Every now and then, political leaders let slip what they really think, rather than what they have been telling others. So Blinken, or Mr Rules-based International System, was speaking his mind, for once.

But, who decides on the guest list and what’s on the menu? I think we all know what Washington thinks about that.

It’s worth mentioning who was on stage with Blinken at the security forum. Sitting next to him was German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who often sounds even more hawkish when it comes to Ukraine and China.

Germany’s response to the war in Ukraine has given a twist to our restaurant theory. It’s very rare for a diner to volunteer to be put on the menu. And yet, under Baerbock and Co, that’s exactly what Germany has done.

After the Ukrainians, the Germans have been the biggest losers in the war. That’s why support for Ukraine is evaporating among the populace. After all, it has severely damaged their export-driven economy, making it the worst-performing of the major European economies, worse than even stagnant Britain.

Inflation, a traumatic word in Germany, has yet to stabilise. The energy outlook is dire. Even as the threat of recession remains, the country’s leaders demand to take on China by reducing trade and threatening penalties, and step up military spending it can’t afford. Living standards are worse in more than a generation. Forget about support for German industry; that was long predicated on cheap energy from Russia. And yet, through it all, Baerbock and her Green coalition within a highly unpopular government is doubling down.

These are the same people who have been pathologically incurious about who blew up the Nord Stream pipeline, a key energy infrastructure.

Blinken may be right; if you are not there to eat at a restaurant, you are being served up in a dish. But increasingly, diners invite themselves rather than waiting to be invited. Many have learned it’s especially dangerous if you are invited by the American host. As ordinary Germans have learned, you might end up on the menu, the ‘South China Morning Post’ columnist concludes.


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