After Imperial Japan started World War II in the Pacific by attacking the United States at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto reportedly wrote in his diary, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”
Less dramatically but just as momentously, communist China’s own aggressive actions against the international system have awakened three long-slumbering giants: the United States, Japan and Europe.
Washington, through President Nixon’s historic opening to China in 1972, led the West in welcoming China into “the family of nations.” Six succeeding administrations, counseled directly or indirectly by Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s junior partner in the original China rapprochement, uncritically followed Kissinger’s advice in his self-selected role as Beijing’s chief Western advocate. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently said after meeting with him, “U.S. policies towards China require Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political courage.”
American, Asian and European business interests welcomed the economic benefits of low labor costs and the huge Chinese market. As the China coupling expanded and deepened under the “win-win” banner, it blinded Western governments to what was happening to populations under Beijing’s control, to neighboring countries, and to the rules-based international order. Virtually all in the West were content to look the other way as the good times rolled.
The transformative China policies of President Trump’s national security team, followed and expanded by the Biden administration, interrupted the slide toward total Chinese domination of the economic and political order. Washington’s example encouraged other governments to reexamine their own security posture.
While Japan was always wary of Beijing’s designs on the Senkakus Islands, for years it shied away from embroilment in the U.S.-China contentions over Taiwan’s future, relying on the constraints set by Article 9 of Japan’s U.S.-imposed pacifist constitution.
That began to change in 2005, under the impetus of Shinzo Abe, then-head of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and prime minister heir apparent. Tokyo joined Washington in stating that security in the Taiwan Strait is a “common strategic objective” under the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, without specifying the implications for Japan.
As prime minister, Abe continued to read greater flexibility into Article 9 in favor of Japan’s Treaty obligations with the U.S. He said of a cross-Strait conflict, “It would be wrong for us to send a signal to China that the United States and Japan will watch and tolerate China’s military invasion of Taiwan. If the situation surrounding Japan threatens our security, Japan can provide U.S. forces with support.”
Taiwan’s special representative to Japan welcomed the change. “We’re relieved that Japan has become more assertive.”
In 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told Nikkei Asia, “The peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait is critical not just for our country, but for the whole international community. […] The Group of Seven is united on this.”
Europe, given its distance from the region, understandably has been slower to evolve from accommodating partner with China to concerned skeptic. But Beijing’s growing economic aggressiveness under Xi Jinping, and international exposure of its human rights depredations against the Uyghurs, began to open eyes in European capitals. Attitudes changed with China’s sweeping claim to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and its aggressive actions pursuing that claim despite an adverse ruling by the United Nations’ Arbitral Tribunal.
Despite Beijing’s claim of the Taiwan Strait as “internal Chinese waters” and its closure of the Strait in 1995 and 1996, for years Europe failed to recognize the growing peril. Neither geography nor geo-economics had changed over the decades of engagement. But geopolitics had, as European governments began to see their own vulnerability to disruptions in the flow of commerce through the Strait and the larger South China Sea.
Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine brought the reality of untrammeled 1940s-style aggression home to the Europeans, even though its earlier seizure of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, and its 2008 invasion of Georgia apparently had not. Beijing’s formal declaration of a “no-limits strategic partnership” with Moscow in February 2022 and its diplomatic, material and dual-use technological support for Russia’s war on Ukraine further deepened awareness of the existential Sino-Russian challenge to the rules-based international order.
Not all European leaders are entirely on board yet. French President Emmanuel Macron met with Xi in Beijing last year and said the Taiwan issue was one of the “crises that are not ours.” Western governments still have not fully accepted the reality that for some time we have been engaged in a new Cold War — and that China and Russia have been waging it for years, unopposed.
While President Biden frequently expresses his fear about World War III, China and Russia are already waging it on a preliminary level. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin conducts a violent war that kills Ukrainians but not Americans. Beijing, on the other hand, has devised a way to kill untold young American men of military age each year without a war and losses of Chinese soldiers, by flooding the United States with addictive drugs like fentanyl.
Despite Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s assurances that counternarcotics is one of the areas of cooperation in the competitive-cooperation dichotomy in fraught U.S.-China relations, Beijing refuses to meet with U.S. interlocutors. It demands first that Washington remove U.S. sanctions for China’s serious human rights violations.
Several Congress members said in a letter to Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last week, “China is using American lives as a bargaining chip to achieve sanctions relief for its human rights abuses.”
Xi and Putin, and their allies in Pyongyang and Teheran, believe they have devised a successful “Gulliver strategy” of tying the U.S. down not only in two-front wars in Ukraine and Taiwan but in lesser regional conflicts with potentially major consequences, such as the Russian-supported coup in Sudan or Iran’s aggressive posture in the Middle East.
Cold War II has many dimensions that, if not addressed effectively and comprehensively by clear-eyed Western governments, could metastasize the early stages of World War III into a more kinetic phase. The West will then have tragically blundered into another conflict through misguided accommodationist policies.
Source : THEHILL