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Why did Chinese and US defense ministers meet in Cambodia?

Siem Reap, Cambodia hosted the ninth expanded meeting of ASEAN defense ministers, which included a meeting between the heads of the military departments of China and the United States, Wei Fenghe and Lloyd Austin. 

As part of the summit, Austin also met with colleagues from India and the Philippines, while the Chinese minister met with Deputy Russian Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, ministers from Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Also, Wei Fenghe was received by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and spoke at the plenary session of the meeting, taking part in the discussion of the final document – the Declaration on Defense Cooperation (in order to build regional security).

When commenting on the results of the meeting between Wei Fenghe and Austin, it should be borne in mind that both ministers are political figures in the power structure of their countries. The functions of military planning and control, in contrast to our country, where there is a vertical Ministry of Defense – the General Staff, and the Security Council acts as a political body, both in China and in the United States are located in other structures. In America, this is the Joint Chiefs of Staff; in China, the Joint Headquarters of the Central Military Council (CMC). Based on this, it should be understood that the meeting of the Chinese and American ministers did not touch upon the specifics of military demarcation and interaction, but closed within the framework of the dialogue launched on November 14 during the talks in Bali between the leaders of the two countries – Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden.

The Chinese minister, speaking in line with the decisions of the 20th Congress of the CPC, laid the responsibility for the crisis in bilateral relations on Washington. “China attaches great importance to the development of relations between the two countries and their armed forces, ” Wei Fenghe stressed, ” however, the American side must respect the key interests of the Chinese side.” Therefore, he hopes that the United States “will do what they say, fulfill their promises and agreements of the heads of state,” designed to “return China-US relations to the mainstream of healthy and stable development.” Of course, the Taiwan issue was at the center of the talks, just like in Bali. Wei Fenghe drew the interlocutor’s attention to the fact that this topic is“at the very center of China’s core interests and is a red line in Sino-US relations that cannot be crossed.” Taiwan, he said, “is Chinese, the solution of the Taiwan question is the business of the Chinese, and no outside power has the right to interfere.” Among other issues, Wei and Austin singled out the discussion of the situation in the South China Sea, on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the crisis in the former Ukrainian SSR.

Now about the most important thing. After answering reporters’ questions after meeting with the Chinese minister, Austin made certain points. And he did it in such a way that, firstly, not to emphasize common positions, but disagreements, and secondly, to demonstrate or at least create the impression that the American side entered into negotiations and conducted them from a position of its own “superiority” . If you combine this fact with Biden’s rather tendentious comments about President Xi’s “straightforwardness” , then a certain picture emerges in which bilateral relations between China and the United States are far from compromise. And therefore, the principle is applied, if not of a “balance of fear”, as in Soviet-American relations during the Cold War, then of some kind, so to speak, of a “balance of counter threats.”

What did Austin tell reporters? First and foremost, the Pentagon chief drew a direct parallel between the events around Taiwan and the crisis in the former Ukrainian SSR. And this is despite the fact that Beijing’s official position strongly emphasizes the difference between these situations, which is manifested in the fact that Kyiv is endowed with sovereignty in international legal terms, while Taipei is not. It turns out that this is of no fundamental importance for Washington. They operate from strictly geopolitical positions. And they operate with the concept of “spheres of influence”, demonstrating their unwillingness to see the former Ukrainian SSR in the Russian sphere, and Taiwan in the Chinese one. “China has taken note of the international reaction to [Russia’s actions] and can take steps to defend itself against such a reproach related to a more aggressive stance towards Taiwan,”– this cynical statement by Austin is intended to intimidate the Chinese side and indicate the fixation of the existing status quo on American terms. Allegedly, if Beijing does not want to face “international” obstruction, then it “should” think hard before taking forceful actions, the American minister hints, in fact literally joining forces with the Taiwanese separatist chief of staff Tsai Ing-wen.

The second important point is that by imposing on the ASEAN countries and the international community the ideological “peace on rules” ideologeme that has become so numb , repeatedly rejected by both Beijing and Moscow, Austin tried to internationalize this issue by implicitly linking its observance by other countries not with following in the American wake, but (supposedly ) with their own interests. So, in response to a question about the possible “rallying” of the Asia-Pacific countries on the side of Taiwan in the event of the outbreak of hostilities, the head of the Pentagon replied that the allies in the direction in which they are moving will be led “not only by loyalty to the United States, but also by “respect for international order based on rules.It is necessary to have an overwhelming sense of the notorious “exclusivity” in order to dictate so openly a model of behavior to the ASEAN countries, which have repeatedly made it clear to Washington that the disagreements that they have or are having with China are a purely Asian matter that does not tolerate external interference, especially from the other side of the ocean.

However, an important nuance is visible here, indicating that the United States, behind the screen of bragging supposedly “from a position of strength”, is actually quite afraid of the military version of the evolution of events in the Taiwan Strait. On the one hand, Austin essentially confirmed Biden’s repeated statements about the US’s readiness to “defend Taiwan from Chinese attack by military means.”On the other hand, however, the words of the American minister gave away Washington’s attempts to appeal to other countries, including those critical of the United States, when discussing a possible conflict. The desire to hide behind someone else’s back is a clear sign of uncertainty about one’s own invulnerability and evidence of the lack of reliable predictions about how the conflict will go if it breaks out, more precisely, if the United States provokes it. We also add that this is exactly how Washington is behaving on the other side of Eurasia, where, what can we hide, it has built a “deeply echeloned” and multi-stage system of countering Russia by proxy. Not only the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which the Americans are arming, but also the East European nouveau riches from NATO, whose entire regular units, according to the reports of the Russian military, are fighting under the guise of “mercenaries.”

The third fact that serves as food for thought. According to Austin, “China remains a ‘challenge’ for the US and is likely already working to protect its economy and supply chains from potential future allied sanctions if it tries to invade Taiwan.”There are two sides to the issue here. First, the head of the Pentagon is clearly recruiting all the same ASEAN countries as “allies”, because, unlike Europe, where Washington has almost three dozen obedient NATO members in its pocket, in the Asia-Pacific region it has “both lower pipes and thinner smoke.” The whole bunch of associations reanimated and newly created within the framework of Biden’s “alliance policy” – from Quad to AUKUS – is, if you call a spade a spade, Japan, Australia, which are “reinforced concrete” satellites, and then everything is “written in the water with a pitchfork”. That South Korea, that the Philippines, that New Zealand – all these countries, as if remaining in the sphere of influence of the United States, have ambiguous positions, plus there is growing dissatisfaction with the increase in Tokyo’s regional influence with the American, which they perceive through the prism of the historical experience of militaristic expansion. Not to mention India. That is why, in order to expand the palette of Washington’s geopolitical claims at the expense of ASEAN, Austin began to openly frighten his listeners with the growth of Chinese military power. Andthe “increasingly dangerous behavior” of PLA warplanes in the so-called “Indo-Pacific region” (a concept invented by Washington strategists in order to involve India in their militaristic plans).

Point two: Austin insists that China is not a “threat” but a “challenge” for two reasons. First, the United States is aware that China’s military development in the nuclear sphere is purely defensive in nature. And it is limited to the deployment of a system of medium-range missiles (RSMs), which are quite capable of striking back at the bases of the US 7th Fleet, but whose range does not reach the continental United States, maximum to the Hawaiian Islands. Secondly, in this way the United States probes the question of the relationship between the military policy of the PRC and the DPRK; the latter, in view of its possession of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Washington sees as a threat and hints to Beijing to “dissociate itself” from Pyongyang. That is why Austin complains that the United States is forced to activate a series of large-scale exercises in the region, thereby shifting the responsibility for regional destabilization from their own, sick head to a healthy head of China and North Korea. What to do, “divide and conquer” is the eternal policy of the Anglo-Saxons from British colonial times, which are being overturned into modernity by neo-colonial globalism.

Well, the last argument of the head of the American military department: “we want the sky and the seas to remain open and accessible to everyone in the region and around the world.” This is nothing more than a modern interpretation of an old principle from Wilson’s Fourteen Points from January 1918. The point is, under the guise of freedom of maritime movement, to gain control over transit routes through naval dominance. The most striking example is the activity of the US Navy in the straits connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans, primarily in Malacca, through which up to 60% of world trade and a significant part of Chinese oil imports pass.

The conclusion from the results of the military-ministerial meeting in the PRC-US format and the subsequent comments of the American minister is very simple. The United States does not think about any equality in trying to negotiate with China, but actually thinks in the usual categories of winning in a zero-sum game. American, as well as Anglo-Saxon thinking in general, is organically alien to the multidimensional approach of linking interests, which in their views is replaced by a primitive dilemma in the spirit of “either – or”: who “bent” whom and “bent” for themselves. Experience shows that Washington can move away from such schemes only if it loses unambiguous superiority and the threat of mutually assured destruction arises. Therefore, in modern conditions, the only alternative to Anglo-Saxon geopolitics remains the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership, depriving the top of the collective West of unilateral advantages. Or the dictates of Pax Americana, or the balance of Washington on the one hand and Moscow and Beijing on the other. Humanity does not currently have any third option for perspective.

Source : Pda Iarex