Washington’s inability to develop a better narrative than ‘democracy vs authoritarianism’ speaks poorly of its attempt to represent the West. Meanwhile, US-led strategic thinkers are taking non-aligned Asian countries for allies, underestimating Moscow’s strength and failing to see that US policies have pushed Russia and China closer, writes Bunn Nagara, a director and senior fellow at Belt and Road Initiative Caucus for Asia-Pacific (BRICAP), and honorary fellow at the Perak Academy, at 'South China Morning Post’.
Seriously flawed yet widespread narratives are clouding US-led Western strategic thinking. In skewing facts, neglecting past experience and being unhinged from current realities, these stock narratives serve only to justify muscular posturing and rising military budgets.
Taiwan is taken for granted as a US ally against Beijing when Taipei’s indifference to mainland concerns rings true only for President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) is different, ready to acknowledge Taiwan’s vital economic linkage with the Chinese mainland.
The KMT portrays the election in January next year as a stark choice between peace (if it is elected) and war (if the DPP wins). Given that most Taiwanese are war-averse, the KMT’s prospects look brighter than the incumbent’s.
The Philippines and Vietnam are also presumed to be Western allies because of their differences with China in the South China Sea. Yet Manila and Hanoi are non-aligned, seek improved trade and broader relations with Beijing and are wary of being drawn into spiralling US-China tensions.
Meanwhile, assumptions of a blossoming US-Philippine military alliance revolve around Manila’s renewal and expansion of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). But the military sites the US troops are allowed to use – unlike before 1991 – are very much under Philippine jurisdiction.
US-Vietnam relations are also flourishing a generation after Washington withdrew from its proxy wars in Indochina. Hanoi has since proven adept at soliciting no-strings foreign aid while proudly defending its national sovereignty and prerogatives. Nobody pretends a geopolitical alliance is brewing.
There is no longer a market for dated dichotomies. Washington’s inability to develop a 21st century narrative beyond “democracy vs authoritarianism” speaks poorly of its attempt to represent the West.
Cold War bipolarity is passé: Vietnam and the Philippines are too nationalistic to play the compliant junior partner to any superpower. The same applies to larger Asian countries such as India.
The promise of an “Asian century” epitomised by China’s rise has lifted India’s aspirations, substantiated by its rapid economic growth. With its proud nationalism, India is not taking orders from any foreign power.
New Delhi happily partners with Washington in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and with Moscow and Beijing in the BRICS bloc (with Brazil and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s original call for dynamic non-alignment translates today into multiple engagements instead of passive disengagement.
Much the same is true of Japan – it was for former leader Shinzo Abe as it is for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – despite reports to the contrary. Tokyo and its formidable industrial sector retain a serious national interest in investing in China’s rise, with all its transnational prospects.
Even as Japan endorses the US-proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and lauds the G7’s “Build Back Better World” initiative, it knows that decoupling from China is not an option. Neither is there an alternative to working with China.
When French President Emmanuel Macron and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen visited China in April, Macron assured Beijing that hostile US policies were not universal while the European Commission president offered a nuanced and limited interpretation of decoupling in referring instead to “derisking”.
Western elements bent on a feud with China continue to misread the signs and ignore obvious hints. Likewise with Western antipathy towards Russia in the proxy war in Ukraine. The Russian economy is less vulnerable to sanctions than expected, so moves to ban Russian imports backfired, with worsening inflation and exorbitant energy costs.
When Washington cannot even fathom the implications of its foreign policy, how can it respond adequately to multilateral entities like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)?
Geopolitical strength derives from strategic vision with intellectual honesty. Biden’s America offers none of that, never mind anything to occasion Western policy unity and coherence.
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