The long-awaited US move under the Biden administration on how to face China’s economic growth and political ambitions came in the form of a hypothetical summit on March 12th, which brought together, along with the United States, India, Australia and Japan. The meeting of the so-called “Quad” or the Quartet did not reveal anything new in its joint statement, except that the leaders of these four countries talked about a “historic” meeting, which “The Diplomat” described as “an important milestone in the development of the assembly.”
Indeed, the joint statement carries little content that is certainly not new with regard to the scheme of how to reverse – or even slow – Beijing’s geopolitical successes, its growing military confidence, and its growing presence in or around strategic global waterways.
For years, the Quartet was busy formulating a unified strategy to confront China, but it failed to invent anything of practical significance. Regardless of the “historic” meetings, China is the only major economy in the world that is expected to achieve significant economic growth this year. International Monetary Fund projections show that the Chinese economy is expected to expand 8.1% in 2021, while, on the other hand, according to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the gross domestic product of the United States decreased by about 3.5% in 2020.
The Quartet – which represents the Quartet of Security Dialogue – began its activities in 2007 and was revived in 2017, with the clear aim of blocking China’s progress in all fields. Like most US alliances, the “Quartet” is the political manifestation of a military alliance, which is precisely the Malabar Naval Exercises, which are a naval maneuver that originally began in 1992 between America and India, and quickly expanded to include the four countries.
As long as the “Washington Axis in Asia” alliance is considered a shift in the entrenched US foreign policy, which was based on a greater focus on the Middle East, there is little evidence that Washington’s confrontational policies have weakened Beijing’s presence, its trade, or Its diplomatic activities, all over the continent. Aside from the expected confrontations between the American and Chinese fleets in the South China Sea, there is nothing else that emerged from this policy.
While much of the media coverage has focused on the US axis in Asia, the media has spoken little about the China axis in the Middle East, which is more successful as an economic and political endeavor than America’s geostrategic shift.
This seismic change stems from the United States’ foreign policy priorities, from its failure to translate the Iraq war and the 2003 invasion into a geo-economic success after controlling oil in Iraq, the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. Where the American strategy proved that the invasion was a fatal mistake.
In an article published in the Financial Times in September 2020, writer Jamil Underlin made a remarkable point. He wrote: “If oil and influence are two prizes, it is China, not America, that ultimately won the Iraq war and its aftermath, without firing a single bullet at all.”
China is not only currently the largest trading partner of Iraq, but Beijing’s tremendous economic and political influence in the Middle East is considered a victory. China is now, according to the Financial Times, the largest foreign investor in the Middle East and has a strategic partnership with all Gulf states, except for Bahrain. If we compare this to Washington’s muddled foreign policy agenda in the region, its unprecedented hesitation, the absence of any specific political doctrine for it in the region, and the systematic breakdown of its regional alliances, this model becomes clearer and more convincing when understood on a global scale. By the end of 2019, China had become the world leader in terms of diplomacy, with 276 diplomatic posts, many of them consulates. And unlike embassies, consulates play a more important role in terms of trade and economic exchange. According to 2019 figures published in Foreign Affairs, China has 96 consulates, compared to 88 US consulates in the world until 2012, and Beijing lags significantly in terms of Washington’s diplomatic representation, specifically by a difference of 23.
Wherever China is diplomatically present, it is also economically present. In contrast to the disjointed global strategy of the United States, China has expressed its global ambitions through a huge network, known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”, estimated at trillions of dollars. When completed, the Belt and Road Initiative will unite more than 60 countries in terms of economic strategies and trade routes led by China. To achieve this, China moved quickly to have a close physical presence in the most strategic waterways in the world, and invested heavily in some of them, and as is the case in the Bab al-Mandab strait, it established its first foreign military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
At a time when the American economy is shrinking and America’s European allies are divided politically, it is difficult to imagine that any American plan to counter the influence of China, whether in the Middle East, Asia, or anywhere else, would achieve great success.
• The biggest obstacle to Washington’s strategy toward China is that there is no chance that America can achieve a clear and precise victory over China. Economically, China is now leading global growth, and thus benefits from the American international crisis due to the “Covid-19” pandemic. Harming China economically would weaken the United States, as well as global markets.
• As long as the alliance of the “Washington Axis in Asia” is considered a shift in the established US foreign policy, which was based on focusing more on the Middle East, there is little evidence that the confrontational policies adopted by Washington have weakened Beijing’s presence or its trade, Or its diplomatic activities, across the continent.
The biggest hurdle
The biggest obstacle to Washington’s strategy toward China is that there is no chance that America can score a clear and precise victory over China. Economically, China is now leading global growth, and thus benefits from the American international crisis due to the “Covid-19” pandemic. Harming China economically would weaken the United States, as well as global markets.
The same is true for America in terms of politics and strategy. In the case of the Middle East, its shift toward Asia has backfired on multiple fronts. On the one hand, it has not recorded any tangible success in Asia, while, on the other hand, it has created a huge void in which China has expanded and refocused its Middle East strategy.
Some erroneously argue that the entire Chinese political strategy is based on its desire to merely “do business.” While economic dominance has historically been the main driver of all great powers, Beijing’s quest for world domination is not limited to the economic aspect. On several fronts, China has already taken the lead or is close to it. For example, on March 9, China and Russia signed an agreement to establish an international research station on the surface of the Moon. Given Russia’s long heritage in the field of space exploration, and the recent achievements China has made in this field, including the first ever spacecraft to land on the Antarctic Basin “Aitken” on the moon, both countries are set to take the lead in the space race. Who has returned to activity again.
Certainly, the US-led “quartet” meeting has historically had no change in the game, as all indications are that China’s global leadership will continue without hindrance, which is a sequential order that is already rearranging the geopolitical models in the world that have been in place for more than a century.
Ramzi Baroud – journalist and editor of the “Blistinian Chronicle” newspaper concerned with the Palestinian issue
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