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Joe's Mandates vs. Xi's Mandate of Heaven

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Some time in the last few years the idea of a “global world order” died, or at least was put in hibernation. The notice is clearly published in the Trump-era 2020 U.S. Maritime Strategy.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has built, led, and advanced a rules-based international system through shared commitments with our allies and partners. Forward deployed forces of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard—collectively known as the Naval Service—have guaranteed the security of this system. Free and open access to the world’s oceans has fostered an extraordinary era of wealth and peace for many nations. That system is now at risk.

In the past, China was the “frenemy” — and in the American establishment’s mind, more friend than enemy. As the Chinese themselves put it:

The 2007 version of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower and its 2015 revision emphasized the shared global nature of the ocean and supported maritime cooperation between great powers. This was closely related to the ‘liberal interventionism’ embraced by the U.S. at the time. “Liberal interventionism” argues that preventing war and winning war are equally important. That is, the U.S. believed that it could use means other than war—including deterrence, ocean management, law enforcement, patrols, and low-intensity operations—to safeguard the international order.

It was a schizophrenic posture at best as this 2015 recap of U.S. grand strategy by the Council of Foreign relations shows. The Obama-era policy to keep the global world going rested on seven pillars vis-à-vis China: 1) Revitalize the U.S. economy; 2) Strengthen the U.S. military; 3) Expand Asian trade networks; 4) Create a technology-control regime; 5) Implement effective cyber policies; 6) Reinforce Indo-Pacific partnerships; and 7) Energize high-level diplomacy with Beijing.

That policy was already failing by 2016 for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was that China had other ideas. It refused to buy into the idea of a Washington-led global world. On the contrary, as a Brookings article points out, it planned to create a China-dominated world order.

China has sought to displace America from regional and global order through three sequential “strategies of displacement” pursued at the military, political, and economic levels. The first of these strategies sought to blunt American order regionally, the second sought to build Chinese order regionally, and the third — a strategy of expansion — now seeks to do both globally.

China interpreted the new American 2020 Maritime Strategy as official acknowledgment that the frenemy policy was past saving and a new era of frank rivalry had begun. However, Washington had left it too late and now had insufficient strength to recover.

Overall, the strategy has two characteristics that deserve attention. First, U.S. maritime forces once again emphasizes the traditional [notion of] fighting for command of the sea. Second, the U.S. will strengthen its struggle in the “gray zone.” This includes operations falling below the intensity of war and operations that seek to make incremental gains, such as weaponizing social media, infiltrating global supply chains, and engaging in space and cyber conflict, etc …

the strategy guides preparations for war. Cooperation is the theme of the 2007 and 2015 iterations of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. There was a belief that in the age of globalization maritime threats were the common threats faced by all states using the sea, and given that these threats cannot be resolved by one single county it advocated for engaging in global maritime cooperation. The corresponding guiding principles proposed reliance on forward presence in shaping the peacetime environment and controlling crises. The means discussed in the new maritime strategy focus not on shaping but winning victory.

In particular, China believes the U.S. does not have the resources to beat back a two-front challenge that Beijing could mount with the cooperation of Russia. “The strategy exhibits a major defect. It does not touch on the most important strategic issue in the sea power struggle, that is, how to simultaneously confront two great powers, China and Russia, all around the globe. How the U.S. allocates its forces between the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean will be the biggest problem for the strategy.”

In Beijing’s view, Biden is now the enemy. “The end of the Trump administration strategy does not mean that the strategy will quickly become a historical document. … In the present context, in which Sino-U.S. strategic competition has become the high-level consensus of the two political parties in the Congress, it is certainly unlikely that major adjustments will be made to the strategy after the new administration takes office.”

Beijing, far from being dismayed by the collapse of the global world project, is defiantly readying itself for the multidimensional fight, confident of victory. The first casualty is “climate change,” now being treated with derision by China.

When climate envoy John Kerry visited China last week, senior Chinese officials emphatically rejected Biden’s proposal to deal with climate cooperation as a freestanding issue, apart from other, more contentious matters. Worse, they would only meet speak with Kerry by video call, sending a junior official to meet the former secretary of state. (These Chinese officials had no problem, however, meeting a Taliban delegation in person just weeks earlier).

“We won’t be bullied into going green,” says China, according to the Times of London. “Beijing has told Britain that it will not yield to international pressure for bigger improvements to its climate change commitments at the Cop26 conference in Glasgow. Beijing’s warning came after Alok Sharma, the UK senior climate change representative, arrived for pre-summit talks with the intention of persuading China to ‘enhance’ its carbon emissions reduction targets.” It continued to hammer poor John Kerry. “Beijing has rebuffed American calls to make more public pledges on climate change before a UN climate summit in November, insisting it should follow its own plan rather than bowing to US pressure, according to a person familiar with the two countries’ negotiations.”

That plan is building coal plants.

The New York Times noted glumly: “Escalating tensions between China and the United States have spilled into their talks over how to stop global warming from hitting catastrophic levels after Chinese officials warned the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, that political ill will could undermine cooperation.”

“My response to them was, ‘Hey look, climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan, it’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool, and it’s certainly not day-to-day politics. It’s a global, not bilateral, challenge,’” he said on a call with reporters. …

“Needless to say, adding some 200-plus gigawatts of coal over the last five years, and now another 200 or so coming online in the planning stage, if it went to fruition would actually undo the ability of the rest of the world to achieve a limit of 1.5 degrees,” he said, adding, “The stakes are very high.”

The message, in case John Kerry hasn’t figured it out yet, is that insofar as Beijing is concerned, he can take his liberal interventionist wokery and shove it. China has warships, industries, and spacecraft to build. If the admonition to “follow the money” has any validity, the climate changers are in for the fight of their lives. Reuters reports: “Coal will be a major contributor to Australia’s economy well beyond 2030 given growth in global demand, the country’s resources minister said on Monday, a day after a United Nations envoy called on the country to phase out the fossil fuel.”

Books: Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power and History’s First Global Manhunt. Steven Johnson uses the extraordinary story of the exploits of Henry Every, the most notorious pirate of the 17th century, to explore the emergence of the East India Company, the British Empire, and the modern global marketplace: a densely interconnected planet ruled by nations and corporations.